Suddenly, she's a baroness Belgian king ennobles a Hopkins psychiatrist

October 11, 1991|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Evening Sun Staff

GHISLAINE GODENNE is a psychiatrist, a pediatrician, a psychoanalyst and a professor.

Now she has a new title, one that precedes all the rest, takes her by surprise and even makes her a little giddy.

She is a baroness, a Belgian baroness, the Belgian Baroness of Baltimore.

Call her Baroness Dr. Ghislaine Godenne, thank you.

''I never dreamed I would become nobility,'' says Godenne, a Belgian citizen but a 40-year resident of the United States.

Word of her title, she says, came "out of the blue" in an early-summer phone call from Jacques Van Iterzeel, an emissary of King Baudouin I of Belgium. ''The king has decided to honor you . . . with the title of baroness,'' she remembers him saying in French.

And an honor it is. The king bestows titles of nobility -- knight, baron and count -- on about 20 people a year, says Bernadette Govarts, a spokeswoman for the Belgian Embassy in Washington. Godenne, according to Govarts, is only the seventh woman to be titled in the last 10 years and only the second Belgian citizen living outside the country to be so named in at least 25 years.

"It becomes quite an exceptional honor," Govarts adds.

After Godenne's brief phone conversation, which included a request not to make the honor public until it became official late in July, Godenne has heard nothing. The caller did give her the phone number of the palace in Brussels, ''but I felt a little embarrassed to call the palace and say, 'What next?' I did not feel that it was quite suitable.''

She did not feel that it was quite possible, either, to keep such news a secret. Her secretary at Johns Hopkins University was the first to know. Then Godenne told two of her sisters who live in this country.

Finally, she told her older brother, a physician in Belgium. ''Someone is playing a joke on you,'' he replied.

Though it's no joke, Godenne, 67, still doesn't know what being a baroness is all about. Govarts says that the privileges are few: "She can have her title added to her passport," and, of course, use the title as she wishes.

Nor does Godenne really know why she was so honored. ''Exactly why I've been made a baroness, I don't know. The guy on the phone told me it was for my brilliant career.''

It would be difficult to find a better reason.

For more than 27 years, Godenne has cared for young people through psychiatric services at the university and at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. She retired last year as director of the university's Counseling and Psychiatric Services but continues to work in that program, which serves more than 600 students a year and is distinguished by its large staff of volunteer mental health professionals.

Godenne was the founder of the hospital's Adolescent Psychiatric Services, which, in 1964, was one of the first outpatient programs on the East Coast helping people age 13 to 21. When she left, it closed.

As a young doctor, she distinguished herself as the first female chief resident at Hopkins. As an accomplished psychiatrist, she broke new ground as the first female president of the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry.

Godenne has published more than 60 articles. Her speaking invitations have taken her around the world -- several times.

Although she gave up the directorship of the university's counseling services, she is far from retired. She teaches one undergraduate course, is a consulting psychiatrist at Loyola College and maintains a private practice in her Roland Park home.

Still, ''I figure it's probably the highest [honor] I've gotten,'' Godenne says of her noblewoman status. The Belgian government has decorated her twice previously, first as a Knight of the Order of Leopold in 1972, and as an Officer of the Order of Leopold in 1984. These are the highest decorations given to civilians, she explains.

''I thought that was recognition.''

As part of being a baroness, Godenne must create a coat of arms for herself. She understands she will be helped by an artist appointed by the Belgian government, but she already has her own ideas.

''I would like a dog, a caduceus [the symbol of a physician -- two staffs with entwined snakes and wings at the top], the Roland Park water tower and maybe a clover.'' The caduceus and water tower represent her profession and her neighborhood.

The dog stands for one of her loves. She shares her roomy home with ''an old Lab,'' Tibou, and a Belgian Malinois named Flic, and even her answering machine message refers to the dogs, whom she laments, "don't understand human languages."

And the clover? ''My interest in adolescent psychology really came from Girl Guiding in Belgium. And the clover is the symbol of Girl Guiding,'' she says, explaining that Girl Guides are similar to American Girl Scouts.

"It was extremely important to me," says Godenne, who was a guide as an adolescent. Later, she started a troop of girls who had been dismissed from other troops.

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