In Memoriam: Those We Lost in 2021

Read the eulogies for all the psychiatrists we lost in 2021.

Over the past year, H. Steven Moffic, MD, has paid homage to the great work of psychiatrists we lost. We have collected those eulogies here in honor of the friends who are no longer with us.

Arthur Meyerson, MD

Dr Meyerson died on January 27, 2021, at the age of 84. He is survived by his wife, Carol Bernstein, MD, another renowned psychiatrist.

He was basically a lifelong New Yorker and a leader of psychiatry there. He was a role model for me because of his focus on community mental health, and beloved by many of the community psychiatrists who knew him. He pressed early on for the rights of the chronically mentally ill.

Usually, community psychiatry is practiced for the poor over an extensive geographical area, what used to be called “catchment areas.” However, Dr Meyerson also practiced a unique community service for the traumatized at a much more constricted area. After 9/11/01, he provided leadership and free therapy for those needing it, as clinical director for Disaster Psychiatry Outreach at Ground Zero.

Besides psychiatry, he was also quite involved with the arts, including reading, writing poetry, and singing with his glee club. This is reflected in requested donations made in his name to the Young People’s Chorus and the University Glee Club, both of New York City.

Rabbi Abraham Twerski, MD

Rabbi and psychiatrist Abraham Twerski died at the age of 90 after battling COVID-19.

He was one of the rare psychiatrists who was also a Rabbi. Or was it the other way around, a Rabbi who was also a psychiatrist? His career made it hard to distinguish, though he mainly worked in psychiatric settings. I identified him as both, as he did in his book, The Rabbi and Nuns.

When growing up in Milwaukee as one of the Twerski Hasidic dynasty of Rabbis, this Twerski had an interest in the comics as silly entertainment. Later he kept books of them, especially the “Peanuts” comic strips, at his desk to reduce his own stress. Specializing in substance abuse, he once had a patient who could not admit that he was an alcoholic until Dr Twerski showed him the familiar “Peanuts” strip of Charlie Brown repeatedly trying to kick a football, but continually missing. The patient connected Charlie Brown’s failure to appreciating his own limitations.

After that, Twerski wrote several books (among his scores of books on the wisdom of the “Peanuts” comic strips) and used them for educational and therapeutic teaching, especially regarding self-esteem.

Eventually, a lasting friendship developed between Twerski and the “Peanuts” writer, Charles Schultz. After Schultz died, Twerski often wore a “Peanuts” tie as a public tribute.

Robert J. Ross, MD, PhD

Dr Ross, died at home on January 17, 2021, age 38. Given his promising career, that seems especially tragic.

Like myself, he went to medical school at Yale, but in his case, he pursued the even more rigorous MD-PhD combined program. He then continued on to the psychiatric residency program at Yale, where he “was so genuinely enthusiastic about patient care” that he was awarded the Ira R. Levine Award for his skill and devotion in caring for patients with severe psychiatric illness. He was beloved as both a teacher and a colleague. We can only imagine where his twin loves of basic science and clinical care would have led.

Kenneth Altshuler, MD

Dr Altshuler died on January 6, 2021 at the age of 91.

Spending part of my career at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston from 1977 to 1989, it did not take long for me to know of Dr Altshuler, who came to Texas also in 1977 to begin his career at the University of Texas, Southwestern. He reached the heights of academic psychiatry over a 42-year career, 23 of which he was chair of the department of psychiatry. While there, I watched from afar as he transformed a fledging department into one of national scientific renown, as the faculty grew from 6 full-time members to more than 100 psychiatrists.

Besides his administration, he had diverse interests in psychiatry, including psychoanalytic principles, geriatric psychiatry, dreams, and mental illness in the deaf. His services for the deaf were duplicated in many countries.

He received many awards, and with his wife also set up philanthropic funds for clinical psychiatry, education, and communication disorders. Despite all his work, he kept time for his family, including hosting an annual family vacation.

Carola Eisenberg, MD

Dr Eisenberg died on March 11, 2021 at the age of 103.

Certainly, human rights are an ethical ideal in medicine. Dr Eisenberg was one of the founders of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which documented torture and abuse internationally. To help address that the prevalence of torture, including recovery from the trauma, PHR advocated for asylum in the United States. Dr Eisenberg was a chair of the Asylum Committee. She once was quoted as saying: “I felt it was my moral obligation to do something about it.”

Some of her social consciousness seemed to come from visiting a hospital in her native Argentina as a teenager, where she was shocked to see hundreds of patients chained to their beds. She was descended from socialist refugees from Russia and came to the United States in 1945.

She was also a champion of women’s rights, and was the first female dean of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She wrote the landmark article “Medicine is No Longer a Man’s Profession” for the New England Journal of Medicine in 1989. She advocated for women to show their compassion as a strength and urged male doctors to do the same.

No surprise, then, that she received many awards, including the APA Human Rights Award in 2005. She also cofounded the Leon and Carola Eisenberg Award of the Physicians for Human Rights.

Hagop Souren Akiskal, MD

Dr Akiskal died on January 20, 2021 at the age of 77.

He was an internationally recognized expert not only on bipolar disorder, but also on a new area of psychiatric attention, that of affective temperaments. As a byproduct of his focus on bipolar, he noted that lithium markedly reduced suicide risk. Besides his voluminous writings, more than 500 articles and 25 books, he was a persuasive speaker and presenter, often referring to ancient masters of the subject. He was likened to a brilliant jazz soloist who played the same piece differently each time.

It is rare to find memorial testimonies of any psychiatrist in as many psychiatric publications as Dr Akiskal has received, including from the World Psychiatric Association, Annals of General Psychiatry, and the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Psychiatric News. A paper in memory of him was coauthored by 10 colleagues from 8 countries, a global village of psychiatrists. Dr Akiskal, himself, spoke 6 languages.

Joseph Napoli, MD

Dr Napoli died on April 9, 2021, just short of the age 75.

Just before his terminal illness was apparent, he had become Speaker of the Assembly of the APA.

His special area of expertise was posttraumatic stress disorder and he received the 2003 APA Bruno Lima Award for the care and understanding of victims of disasters. He coauthored the book Resiliency in the Face of Disaster and Terrorism: 10 Things to Do to Survive.

Near the end of his life, when I interacted with him the most, he became an activist for addressing climate concerns. He passed information on climate change skeptics to his colleagues as long as possible.

Charles E. Riordan, MD

Dr Riordan died on July 17, 2021 at the age of 83.

After developing maintenance treatment for opiate addiction, Dr Riordan became a long-time faculty member at Yale, establishing a pioneering substance abuse remedy unit there. He was felt to be the medical glue of the system. He was a stickler for perfection, but he could also defuse tension with cherished jokes. As an offshoot of his substance abuse expertise, he consulted for Major League Baseball.

After he retired from Yale in 2007, he continued in some private practice and helped at the Connecticut Hospice. However, his major focus in his later years was as “Pop Pop” to his 11 grandchildren. On family trips, he tended to get up early to buy a big bag of doughnuts for his grandchildren, with the unspoken goal of spending time talking with them.

Robert Paul Liberman, MD

Dr Liberman died on August 20, 2021 at the age of 84.

Back in 2017, Bob offered to give community psychiatrists copies of his magnum opus, Recovery From Disability: Manual of Psychiatric Rehabilitation. Of course, many accepted his offer. I did, too, even though I already had an autographed copy. Not much later, he announced his retirement from his full-time position at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). And, as usual, he continued to offer me support and advice, as in this communication:

“When we get to the age of 78, we see the important things more clearly—including time with family and the beauty around us . . .Your comments on the AACP round robin are always ‘right on’! Keep on and on and on!!”

He was one of the world’s experts on psychiatric rehabilitation. More broadly, he kept alive a decreasing therapeutic focus in psychiatry, that of behaviorally-oriented treatment. In fact, that was the focus of his first book in 1972, A Guide to Behavioral Analysis and Therapy. Unfortunately, he recognized—and lamented—that reimbursement never caught up to the complexity and time necessary to fulfill his expert guidelines.

Less well known is that he was also an activist in regards to the war in Vietnam. And, when he deemed it appropriate, he self-disclosed about his own affective disorder. Perhaps he was most proud of his family, and spending time exploring other countries and cultures with them.

Collegial recognition poured in quickly after his death was made public. My favorite was that of a colleague who had Bob as a boss and mentor. He called Dr Liberman “our Jewish Godfather,” because if not for him and the Center he established at UCLA, he would not have met his wife and his family would not exist.

Aaron T. Beck, MD

Dr Beck passed away peacefully on November 1, 2021, on All Saints Day in the Christian tradition, at the notable age of 100.

Beck was able to research the process and outcomes of cognitive therapy so that it became replicable and evidence-based. Psychodynamic psychotherapy, with its complexity and variations, was found that much more difficult to do. Beck and his colleagues also developed manuals to learn and use, inventories of symptoms to monitor outcomes, and hundreds and hundreds of articles and books. Awards were plentiful. To institutionalize a resource center on CBT, he and his psychologist daughter, Judith S. Beck, PhD, founded the not-for-profit Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy in 1994.

Late in his life, Beck was working to incorporate the recovery model into his CBT model—Recovery-Oriented Cognitive Therapy (CT-R)— so that patients with so-called serious mental illness like schizophrenia would feel empowered and valuable. Some of his concepts have also spread into wider society. In politics, his cognitive principles can be seen when one side or the other tries to positively reframe an issue to their liking.

Carl Malmquist, MD

Dr Malmquist died on May 24, 2021 at the age of 90. In the guest book for sharing memories of Malmquist, Joachim Savelsberg wrote this: “. . . but his mind was at home in the world.”

More specifically, he was at home in the world of forensic psychiatry, being involved in many high-profile legal cases, as well as being a consultant to the FBI and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

In 1996, he wrote the book Homicide: A Psychiatric Perspective, which was rooted in clinical psychiatry and a consideration of those who kill. Surely, he would have been interested—and helpful—in all our current high profile homicides, including Kyle Rittenhouse, Ahmaud Avery, and the 2 men convicted of killing Malcolm X who are being exonerated.

We both shared a strong interest in social psychiatry. At the University of Minnesota medical and law schools, he served as a professor of social psychiatry, the only such academic position I have ever known.

Malmquist was also a great friend and contributor to Psychiatric TimesTM. Indeed, the world was his home and he will be missed.

Charles Atkins, MD

Atkins was a psychiatrist, author, and clinical trainer, who passed away on November 3, 2021.

You may wonder what clinical trainer meant. I did, too. We get a sense of that from the Connecticut Women’s Consortium, who posted this on their official Facebook page:

“The Connecticut Women’s Consortium is deeply saddened by the loss of our trainer and friend, Dr Charles Atkins. From musical interludes to candy-filled hospital deadpans, Charlie knew better than anyone how to captivate a room full of people.”

He seemed to convey that same gift as a fiction and nonfiction author under both his given name and the pen name of Caleb James. Under Caleb James, some of the titles of his books are: Exile, Dark Blood, and Hound. Under Charles Atkins we have: Mother’s Milk, Elixir, and Alzheimer’s Answer Book.

As a triple threat psychiatrist, he surely had an impact on patients, the public, and society.

Richard P. Gerhardstein, MD

Gerhardstein died on October 17, 2021 at the age of 89. He was 1 of our Milwaukee local area’s unsung psychiatrists, but there is much to sing about as we view his life.

He practiced clinical psychiatry for 40 years, with a particular focus on addiction. He also did some administration as the Medical Director of the Milwaukee County Mental Health Center.

In his personal life, he had widespread interests and knowledge. Loving the outdoors, he left his mark on a noteworthy rock wall that he built with his sons on his property, which was also visible to the public. His ecological knowledge was conveyed on walks, where he recognized an invasive species, a special rose, or an interesting tree.

As if all of this was not enough of a contribution to society, the family requested that memorials be sent to RIP Medical Debt. Dick recognized and felt that medical debt was a particularly problematic American injustice and wanted to help that any way he could. Indeed, over 100 million Americans are struggling with medical debt. The RIP charity claims to have helped to abolish billions in debt, but indicates that there is so much more to do.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.