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Friday, 03.04.2020

Eulogy for Donald F. Klein by Ira D. Glick

 

        To many in the field, and for those who didn’t know him, Don was known as a “tough and cynical scientist.”

        But for me (and for my Co-Residents at Hillside, Fred Quitkin and Arthur Rifkin), who trained with him, and remained as life-long friends and colleagues, the description was off target.

        He was clearly “the Father of Modern Clinical Psychiatry” and one of the strongest, scientific minds of the last century.  His textbook with John Davis, Diagnosis and Drug Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders: Adults and Children, was the bible for the Field

        For Art, Fred and I, he was a generous mentor and teacher. He taught us a way to think about the patients we were seeing at Hillside in the 1960s. And at that time, we all knew that schizophrenia was caused by “bad mothering,” let alone “bad fathering.” Not only that, but families “got in the way” of our analytically-oriented psychotherapeutic efforts with the hospitalized patients we struggled  with – mostly entirely without medicines. He was a fabulous teacher – we met with him weekly as Residents. It was the best teaching any of us ever got. He taught us how to understand and work with patients both before and after they were on medications. Surprise – we were taught “that the mind might be connected to the brain-body.”

        Not only that, he realized that families suffered with their family members’ illnesses. And they actually wanted to help us change the trajectory of patient lives. This was something that we were unable to do as psychiatrists up to that time – and Don changed psychiatric treatment so that we could change lives over their lifetime.

        We appreciated during our training what it was like to watch Don work with patients as a clinician. Over the years we marveled how patients and their significant others loved him as a compassionate and knowledgeable doctor. The detailed workup/evaluation form that he designed and gave to patients and their families before he saw them was truly innovative – and clinicians still write us asking for copies.

        Needless to recount, Barry, John Davis and others have detailed Don’s research contributions – and I won’t repeat them here. Above all, he was science and data-based as he made major contributions to understanding and treating patients and their families in his research.

        He was an extraordinary human being – to use a cliché – “larger than life.” He was principled, kind, generous and funny. He saw the humor in the irony of life – for example when he described in detail his consultation with a famous New York painter with early dementia. The man was propped-up in front of his easel with paint brushes tied to his arms with two men moving his arms up and down the canvas. The paintings from this period sold for millions.

        We, the field, his family and others will miss him.  I doubt there will ever be anyone to advance the field of human behavior and brain illnesses to the extent that he did.

        He changed not only individual lives, but even worlds in terms of understanding how human behavior with or without medication affects individuals, families, tribes, cultures and societies.

 

January 16, 2020