Tom Ban’s Eulogy by Carlos Morra


The word emptiness acquires a new meaning when a man like Tom Ban passes away. He was a complex but transparent man, completely dedicated to his family, friends and work. It's impossible to show all the shapes of his personality and present his life with the depth that it deserves, but I will try to present a glance of the Tom I knew.

I met Tom almost three decades ago when Ronaldo Ucha Udabe introduced me to him as a promising young psychiatrist coming from a family of psychiatrists. He immediately suggested that we should start to work on a book on psychopathology (a book that we never completed), but when we talked about my personal interests during our work on the book, we decided to revise CODE-DD instead and we abandoned the project in Chapter 4, although we had designed a plan that had taken us more than five years.

This occurred before the modern communications era, so the telephone was not sufficiently efficacious to accomplish our task; we had to spend several weeks away from home, in alternating turns, with me going to Canada and then Tom coming to Córdoba. But this was not a fair arrangement for Tom; he was several decades older than me, the exhausting trips started to take their toll and we decided that I should be the one to travel. So, I started to stay longer and more frequently in Toronto.

It was on these occasions that I became to know him as a friend, a husband and a father. From our close interactions he easily became a role model. He was able to work without interruption, not even for a quick lunch, from 9 to 6. Then he had a sandwich and an orange juice dinner with his family and went back to work until 4 a.m., every day, even on weekends and holidays - he can be described as restless. Furthermore, not even illness could ever stop Tom. On one occasion he didn’t mention that he had a severe cellulitis. So, when I arrived in Toronto, we had to work in his office with the noise of an electronic pump that administered antibiotics because he preferred not to waste time (what he considered the most valuable good).

He was trained by Hans Lehmann who taught that punctuality was a sign of respect and Tom took it to the extreme. For more than seven years we connected by Skype exactly on the dot and if there was a one-minute delay in the connection he sent an e-mail to check if there was a problem, of course sometimes there was.

We had hundreds of dinners and a few lunches, that gave me the opportunity to meet his friends and collaborators, such as Ned Shorter and Barry Blackwell. We shared personal and professional memories, and I tried to record those conversations in my memory because they were more valuable than anything I ever learned. He was an excellent host, always trying to make people comfortable even when going out for dinner; we chose a different restaurant every night and I remember almost all of them, as they were excellent. After dinner, I was so tired of working and talking all day long in English, that I battled to keep my eyes open while watching TV at the hotel. In contrast, he went back home and worked on his regular schedule until 4 a.m. His working schedule never changed which explained to me why he had an incredible number of publications. He believed that the most distinguished professionals answered e-mails in less than 24 hours, so he stayed up until he answered the last of the near 100 daily e-mails. He lived a stoic life that was perfectly organized. One of his only indulgences was movies and he loved to go to the cinema weekly; we enjoyed recommending to each other the best movies we watched.

Through the years Tom tried to encourage me not to waste time in arguments. He respected other people’s opinions and never made comments ad hominem. Furthermore, he had firm beliefs but never imposed them on anyone. He only tried to facilitate their journeys to arrive at a clear conclusion, by a kind of hermeneutic training that he had as junior psychiatrist. Likewise, he stated that according to Lehmann’s training on philosophy, people’s minds follow a dialectic organization, so if you try them to make them think in a certain way, they automatically assume the opposite position; thus, he believed that training should always be gradual to accomplish the expected objectives.

In one of our talks, he mentioned his book Conditioning and Psychiatry, which was particularly interesting to me because I was trained in cognitive behavioral therapy at the beginning of my professional career. He was close to Horsley Gantt, the only English-speaking disciple of Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, and he mentioned his regret that his own conditioning lab was closed before he was able to finish his research on psychiatry. This experience, together with his knowledge of József Nyirö’s work, led him to embrace and improve the concept of structural psychopathology, simplified as interpreting psychopathology under the light of condition reflex. This theory never had enough followers because it came from Russia at a time when it was not wise to even mention Russian authors in the USA.

In 2003 together we attended a couple of CINP meetings and participated in the activities of the History committee where we had the opportunity to spend some time with some of his friends like Hermann van Pragg, Hans Hippius, Jules Angst and Nancy Andreassen. He spent hours in the committee’s booth that distributed to the members of the organization some of his books, and we had long conversations with members such as Arvid Carlson. In Paris, we attended the CINP’s Presidential Dinner with some of his collaborators and friends, such as Ucha Udabe, Van Pragg and Angst who sat at our table, and he showed his warm and friendly personality; this will be one of the mental “snapshots” that I will never forget.

Tom always tried to keep in touch with his friends and his fellows from the WHO, such as Ucha Udabe or Aitor Castillo. He never forgot anyone and he generously included them in any project he had. Furthermore, it would be impossible to keep a record of all the people he advised or helped advance their careers.

After finishing the revised version of CODE-DD, that we decided to call Composite Diagnostic Evaluation for Unipolar Depression (CODE-UD), we kept in contact regularly and in 2014 Tom invited me to join him in INHN. He remembered about my particular interest in the subject of history and my hobby of collecting psychiatric books that had a significant contribution to psychiatry, such as those by Pinel, Esquirol and Reil.  So, a few months later he offered me to lead INHN’s Project 8, Books. We started to talk by telephone and a few months later to Skype for a couple of hours weekly. And then Tom offered me directorship of INHN’s Central Office; we increased our weekly connections up to three hours per week, but we always had to have an unscheduled call.

Tom was interested in all the personal aspects of his friends’ lives, and mine was no exception. He followed all the events of my life and family as an uncle would have done. We talked about all the projects in which we were involved and he always knew every single detail. He answered hundreds of mails every day and frequently wrote essays and chapters to be posted on the INHN website. He had weekly calls with many of the other members of the INHN that consulted him because of his flawless memory and edited some books, all at the same time.

Many of us envied him, he had the energy of a teenager and the experience of a 92-year-old man. I had the opportunity to edit and publish together with Olaf Fjetland and Lucrecia Alvarez his last book, Neuropsychopharmacology and the Forgotten Language of Psychiatry, Madness: From Psychiatry to Neuronology via Neuropsychopharmacology, a week before his stroke, he was as excited as if it was his first book. His fantasy of INHN Publisher finally became true and we had more than 10 books in the queue to be published.

Tom was the last Benedictine Monk, a renaissance man whose objective in life was the preservation of the history of neuropsychopharmacology and finally his objective was within reach. We are already missing him, but his work is still here, his books will be published for many years after his death and his legacy will live in their pages.

Thank you, you will always be remembered as a pioneer, a founder, a professor, a doctor, a mentor, a psychopharmacologist and a friend, Godspeed Tom!