Dr. Russell R. Monroe, 82, chief of psychiatry at UM med school

April 11, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dr. Russell R. Monroe, former chairman of the department of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who explored the relationship between madness and genius as well as raging electrical storms deep in the brain that trigger violence, died of pneumonia April 4 at his home in San Francisco. He was 82.

"Russ was a scholar who was dedicated to the advancement of our knowledge of psychiatric illnesses," said Dr. Eugene B. Brody, former chairman of the UM psychiatry department, who was succeeded by Dr. Monroe in 1976.

Dr. Monroe was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and raised in Winnetka, Ill. He earned his bachelor's degree in 1942 from Yale University and was a 1944 graduate of the Yale Medical School.

He completed an internship at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and received psychiatric and psychoanalytic training at Columbia University in New York. He also completed a psychiatric residency in 1950 at Rockland State Hospital in Orange, N.Y.

Dr. Monroe began his career in 1950 as a professor of psychiatry at Tulane University, and while there began research into direct brain stimulation.

In 1960, he joined the faculty of the Psychiatric Institute at the Maryland medical school as a professor of psychiatry and principal investigator with the institute's psychophysiological laboratories.

Dr. Monroe, who lived in Bolton Hill, stepped down in 1985 as head of the department but continued to maintain an office at the university and see private patients until moving to San Francisco in 1998.

He was described by Dr. Richard M. Restak, a prominent Washington neurologist, as "the leading authority on brain-based violence."

Interested in what causes sudden violence and criminal activity, Dr. Monroe conducted extensive research into electrical brainstorms that turned "real-life Dr. Jekylls into child beaters, murderers and cocktail lounge conquistadors," he told The Evening Sun in 1972.

"Such impulsive behavior is usually driven by primitive feelings," he said. "The primitive emotions are fear or rage."

Dr. Monroe and his team of researchers worked with 93 prisoners at the state's Patuxent Institution and identified 26 of them as suffering from "epileptoid explosive disorders."

Dr. Monroe was also one of the first researchers to talk about madness and genius, said Dr. Paul McHugh, former Johns Hopkins psychiatrist-in-chief and longtime friend.

In Dr. Monroe's book, Creative Brainstorms: The Relationship between Madness and Genius, a compilation of case studies of artistic and literary personalities including Vincent van Gogh, Virginia Woolf and Emily Dickinson, he suggested there was a common theme: They all suffered from episodic madness.

He also theorized that van Gogh's seizures may have resulted from the substance thujone, which is found in absinthe, a high-proof emerald-colored liqueur that was the favored drink of the artist and other 19th-century intellectuals.

A prolific contributor to medical journals, he was also the author of the books Episodic Behavioral Disorders: A Psychodynamic and Neurophysiologic Analysis and Brain Dysfunction in Aggressive Criminals.

"He was a leader in American psychiatry and never a man to toot his own horn," said Dr. McHugh.

Dr. Monroe sailed extensively on the Chesapeake Bay and competed in ocean races in the Atlantic and Baltic Sea. He was a member of the Southern Yacht Club in New Orleans.

He also was a member of Baltimore's Hamilton Street Club.

Dr. Monroe was married in 1945 to the former Lillian Brooks, who died in 1994.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete.

He is survived by a son, Dr. Russell R. Monroe Jr. of San Francisco; two daughters, Constance Teevan of San Francisco and Nancy Monroe of New Orleans; a sister, Rosamond Mandell of Reston, Va.; and five grandchildren.

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