Eugene B. Brody

An 'international star in psychiatry,' he served as a department head and dean at the University of Maryland

March 17, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen |

Dr. Eugene Bloor Brody, a globally known mental health figure who had been chairman of the department of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and later was dean for social and behavioral studies, died Saturday of renal failure at his Cross Keys home. He was 88.

"Whenever I went to international meetings, whether in Egypt or Europe or elsewhere, people were always coming up to me and asking, 'Do you know Dr. Brody?' His work and his writing made him an international star in psychiatry," said Dr. Steven Sharfstein, a psychiatrist who is president and CEO of the Shepherd Pratt Health System and vice chairman of psychiatry at the University of Maryland medical school.

"He was a larger-than-life person who loved to talk, and when he did, had something worthwhile to say. He had a wonderful, open personality and an intellectual curiosity that was rarely matched in colleagues I've known over time," Dr. Sharfstein said.

Dr. Brody was born and raised in an academic environment in Columbia, Mo.

His father, Samuel Brody, was a distinguished scientist and professor at the University of Missouri, and his mother, Sophie Brody, was a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley.

Dr. Brody earned a bachelor's and master's degree in experimental psychology in 1941 from the University of Missouri, and his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1944.

He completed postgraduate training in psychiatry and psychoanalysis at Yale University School of Medicine and the New York Psychoanalytic Institute.

Dr. Brody's work at Yale was interrupted in 1946, when he became a captain in the Army Medical Corps, serving as chief of the neuropsychiatric service in hospitals of the European command.

A year later, he served as psychiatric consultant to the international military tribunal that conducted the war-crime trials of former Nazi military and civilian officials at Nuremberg.

Dr. Brody told an interviewer in 1999 that he was dealing with "death squad leaders, people who had been in charge of major occupied areas and were responsible for the deaths of many - doctors who condemned schizophrenic and developmentally disabled people to death, [and] industrialists who had used slave labor - it was difficult to carry out the purely psychiatric tasks without being concerned about the entire issue of human rights and Nazi atrocities."

After being discharged from the Army, he returned to Yale in 1948, where he became an instructor and served as chief psychiatrist for the Yale lobotomy project from 1949 to 1952.

In 1951, he was promoted to clinical professor and in 1953 to associate clinical professor. He also was attending psychiatrist for the Yale Medical Center and Psychiatric Institute and chief of the neuropsychiatric service at West Haven Veterans Administration Hospital.

Dr. Brody's landmark book, which has remained in publication since being published in 1952, "Psychotherapy With Schizophrenics," was motivated by his mother's personal struggle with mental illness. She was psychotic, which began in his childhood and continued until her death at age 96.

He wrote that life with his mother conflicted with much of what he was taught about mental illness in medical school.

"With patience and love, as well as increasing knowledge, it was possible to learn her language and teach her mine," he wrote. "I learned that no one is unreachable or incomprehensible 24 hours a day, or 60 minutes an hour."

The experience left an indelible mark on him because, as he wrote, when it came time to treat his first psychotic patient, he "knew how to talk to such a person."

Dr. Brody came to Baltimore in 1957 when he joined the faculty of the University of Maryland medical school. For the next three decades, he served in various capacities, which included professor and psychiatrist-in-chief of its affiliated hospitals, chairman of the department of psychiatry, director of its Institute of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, and dean for social and behavioral studies, before retiring in 1987.

In 1965, Dr. Brody said that America's inner-city slums were breeders of mental illness, and their residents were the least likely to receive the necessary mental health care.

"The psychotic patient from a slum area, from a family whose breadwinner has not passed the sixth grade and is irregularly employed, is six to eight times more likely to become a long-term mental hospital patient than his middle-class counterpart," Dr. Brody told The Baltimore Sun in a 1965 interview.

"Gene was a most distinguished man, and I like to think of him as a Renaissance man. He was a giant in his field," said Dr. Anthony F. Lehman, who is chairman of the University of Maryland's department of psychiatry.

"During his years as chairman of the department, he brought in a broad range of professionals from other fields. The way he built the department was like a big tent," Dr. Lehman recalled.

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