Herbert Pardes, MD, and his Smiling Psychiatric Visionary Leadership


Celebrating the life and smile of Herbert Pardes, MD.

Herbert Pardes


Just a few days after the death of Carl Cohen, MD, who we eulogized yesterday, another giant of psychiatry passed away. That is Herbert Pardes, MD. He died on April 30 at the age of 89. Both deaths occurred just a few days before the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, of which Dr Pardes was a prior President. Coincidence or serendipity?

His life was highlighted in the New York Times article on May 9, “Herbert Padres, Who Steered the Growth of a Giant Hospital, Dies at 89.”1 That and other public obituary sources were used for this eulogy.

During the course of my 50-year career in psychiatry, psychiatrist leadership has dissipated. In community mental health, leadership from professionals of other disciplines have increased and, with the rise of for-profit managed care, has also come business administrators.2

That history has not been reflected in the career of Dr Pardes. Among his many other administrative positions, he was a former director of the National Institute for Mental Health. Later he led Columbia medical school. Ironically, after many disagreements with the connected hospital systems, he led the unprecedented merger of 2 major medical centers that became New York-Presbyterian Hospital. That sounded like it fit the saying, “if you can’t beat them, join them.”

The merger seemed to succeed both financially and clinically. To achieve that, Dr Pardes paid attention to what seemed like small details, but they were small details with major emotional resonance. He insisted that nurses memorize the names of their patients and families. Lobbies were painted in what was deemed to be soothing colors.

From time to time in my columns, I have advocated for a psychiatrist to be involved in our government at the highest levels, like Surgeon General or its equivalent. I did not know that Dr Pardes approached that, being an Assistant Surgeon General under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Imagine that! Being able to serve the leaders of both political parties separately. That must have taken great empathy and skill in applying that empathy.

Or maybe it was his smiles. From the written tributes at his funeral, his secret sauce for success seemed to be his smile:

“He used to greet me and all the employees with a smile in the hallways . . .”

“Always with a smile on his face and that is how I will remember him.”

For all his success, he received many honors, including the annual Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health, named in his honor.

He knew from his own childhood traumatic hospital experience with Perthes Disease. It motivated him to do better. And he did.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.


1. Sandomir R. Herbert Pardes, who steered the growth of a giant hospital, dies at 89. The New York Times. May 9, 2024. Accessed May 14, 2024. https://www.nytimes.com/2024/05/09/health/herbert-pardes-dead.html

2. Moffic HS. The Ethical Way: Challenges & Solutions for Managed Behavioral Healthcare. Jossey-Bass; 1997.

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