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Henry H. Work

Professor of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, Emeritus

UC Los Angeles

1911 – 2007


Professor Henry H. Work, who was the first head of the Division of Child Psychiatry in the UCLA Medical School, the first chief of Child Psychiatric Services in the Neuropsychiatric Institute, and the acting chairman of the Department of Psychiatry from 1967 to 1969, died at his home in Bethesda, Maryland on March 21, 2007. He was 95 years old. He was a dedicated and extraordinary teacher.


Henry Work was born on what he termed “that lucky date” 11-11-11. It was certainly a lucky date for the field of child psychiatry. He grew up in Buffalo, New York. His father, Henry H. Work, Senior, was born in the town of Wick on the north coast of Scotland, north of Aberdeen in 1875. His grandfather had immigrated to New York State in 1845 from the Orkney Islands in the north of Scotland, intending to become a draper. He ended up attending the Rochester Theological Seminary. After graduation, he went back to the Orkney Island where he married Henry’s grandmother, Jane Harcus. They had ten children in all. Retiring from the ministry after a full career as a Baptist minister in Presbyterian Scotland, Grandfather Work returned to the U.S. in 1893. He brought his family, including Grandmother Work and five of his ten children to live in Buffalo.


Henry’s father was a banker, an occupation he practiced until his retirement in the 1940’s. Henry’s mother, Jeannette Harcus, a first cousin of her husband, was also the descendant of Orkadian immigrants who had settled in Wisconsin. The Works had three children. Henry’s two-year older bother Robert was mentally retarded. He lived at home with his parents until his death at age 20. Henry remembered him as a small, pleasant person who lived a quiet life in a comfortable community that accepted him as a member without stigma or question. His sister was born when Henry was five years old. This was about the time that Henry decided he was going to become a physician. Due to his brother’s many illnesses, a variety of physicians made house calls, and Henry was greatly impressed with their intelligence and dedication. His family home became the center of the extended family’s social life, with aunts, uncles, and cousins, coming and going, and asking financial advice from Henry’s father. Coming from such a background, it is perhaps not surprising that Henry hated to balance his checkbook, and he always kept more in his account than his advisors recommended.


Church played a very important part in Henry’s early life. His parents belonged to a non-denominational protestant church, of which Henry’s father was the treasurer and superintendent of the Sunday school. Music also played an important role. All of his uncles, along with his father, loved to sing Scottish songs. Henry loved the glee club at the Bennett High School and the Choir at Hamilton College. Later on in his homes in Los Angeles and Bethesda, no evening was complete without a songfest around the family piano.


A major figure in Henry’s life was his maternal grandmother, who came to live with the family and had strong political views. Family dinners became the place for intense political discussions. It was his father who encouraged Henry to study, rewarding his perfect papers with smiles and accepting anything less with a lift of his eyebrows. Those of us who knew Professor Work well were the recipient of those raised eyelids of his when we were less than perfect, in his estimation.


Henry’s grades were excellent, and he graduated salutatorian of his high school class and was accepted to the “College on the Hilltop”—Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. Henry became his class of 1933 representative, a post which he kept until his death. He devoted himself to preparation for medical school, excelling in the science courses but continuing his love of the humanities. At the time Henry attended Hamilton College, it was a small, all male, college of 400 students. He knew almost everyone in his class. Many of them went on to professional careers. Although he originally thought of returning to Buffalo, he was “nominated” by his science professors along with two other students who became lifelong friends, to attend to Harvard Medical School. He never actually applied to Medical School and he never received an acceptance letter. He was just expected to show up in Boston in time for the fall semester. It was medical school that changed his life.


During his third year in medical school, it occurred to him that he should devote his life to children. From then on, and after graduation from Harvard in 1937, Henry’s life revolved around pediatrics. It was during his eighteen month fellowship at Boston’s Children’s Hospital that he met Virginia Codington, a student nurse. They fell in love, but they were separated by Henry’s fellowship at the Emma Bradley Home in Providence, Rhode Island and a two-year residency in pediatrics in Buffalo. It was during his final year in training that the events of December 7, 1941 occurred.


By the spring of 1942 a unit of the Buffalo General Hospital was forming to go to war. Henry never gave a thought that he would not go with this unit, and he enlisted. In July, 1942, the unit was activated. Fortunately for psychiatry, there was not much need for a pediatrician in the U. S. Army. Henry was sent to Lawson General Hospital in Atlanta to become a psychiatrist. After spending six weeks with Dr. Milton Senn, a man who would become his mentor at the New York Hospital, he was sent to Morocco with Patton’s army as the sole psychiatrist. He helped to set up a military hospital in the former Italian Embassy in Casablanca. When his medical unit was sent to Naples following the invasion of Italy, he set up a hospital there. His patients included German prisoners of war. When the 23rd General Hospital moved to Vittel, near Paris, he continued to treat casualties there as the Director of the Adult Psychiatry Service. Many of his patients were suffering from what would later be called Post Traumatic Stress Disorders. With medical resources lacking, the patients could only be treated with sedatives and talk therapy. Henry learned to become a good listener and encouraged his patients to talk.


During all this time, he corresponded with Ginny. Henry was discharged from the Army in 1945 and returned to New York. He entered a psychiatry residency at New York Hospital, where Ginny had become the Chief Pediatric Nurse. She was one of the lucky ones to have an apartment near the hospital. One month later they were married and Henry moved in. One of his teachers was Benjamin Spock. In December 1946 the first of their four sons, Henry H. Work, III was born. In the fall of 1947 they moved to Kentucky where Henry began a child psychiatry fellowship, after which they moved to Washington D.C. for a two-year stint at the Children’s Bureau. It was during this period that Henry became interested in group dynamics and sensitivity training. He was one of the early members of the National Training Laboratory and spent many happy summers in Bethel, Maine with “T groups.” It was also at this time that he recognized the importance of prevention and early intervention, and he joined the American Public Health Association. He was one of the early members of the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry of which he later on became president. His second son, David Codington Work was born.


Henry and Ginny and the boys returned to Louisville in 1951 where Henry established a new program in child psychiatry, pediatrics, and mental health at the University of Louisville under the chairmanship of an old friend, Spafford Ackerly, M.D. The births of his third and fourth sons William Bruce and Stuart Runyon followed in the Louisville years. In 1955, Henry was asked by Norman Q. Brill, M.D., chair of the UCLA Department of Psychiatry, to come to UCLA to form and head up the Division of Child Psychiatry. During the next 18 years, his program became one of the largest and most successful academic programs in the country, contributing greatly to the research and clinical activities of his field. One of the programs which he founded was the Neuropsychiatric Institute School, of which he was very proud. It became a model for many others throughout the country. He also was active in the Academy of Child Psychiatry, the Professors of Child Psychiatry, and the Southern California Psychiatric Society, of which he was President. He was known as the medical school’s “man on campus,” a south campus professor who did not object to serving in the Academic Senate or on the many committees that he chaired.


Henry was a superb clinician who pioneered in family-centered child psychiatric care and emphasized prevention. He was among the first child psychiatrists to urge parents to develop a closer companionship with their children and to include parents and other family members in his treatment procedures. Rather than separating regular pediatric practice from that of child psychiatry, as was then the custom, he linked the two, emphasizing the importance of working with the families and not blaming them for the problems. He is today credited with bridging the gap between psychiatry and pediatrics by providing pediatricians with greater understanding of emotional development of children.


In 1967 Dr. Work was appointed interim chairman of the UCLA Department of Psychiatry, a post which he held for two years until the new chair Louis Jolyon West, M.D. was appointed. During this time he also became active in the American Psychiatric Association, the large national organization representing all psychiatrists. It was his skill in representing Southern California in the APA Assembly that attracted the attention of APA medical director, Walter Barton, M.D., who in 1972, asked him to return to Washington, D.C. to become Deputy Director of the APA in charge of Professional Affairs.


After a mammoth farewell party at UCLA, Professor Emeritus Henry and Ginny left for Washington. Somewhere and somehow en route Henry managed to break a bone in his foot. He arrived at his new office limping, on crutches, with a cast. It was only after he had recovered from the “grumpiness” following the injury that he learned the scope of his new responsibilities. He was to become staff to the Council on Research, the Council on Education and Career Development, the Council on Children, and the Institute on Hospital and Community Psychiatry. A few years later, under the new Medical Director, Melvin Sabshin, M.D., he became the staff member responsible for the Annual Meeting, the Program Committee, and the Assembly. Because of his roots in the Assembly, it became his real love. He became its most ardent advocate in the Central Office, and his efforts to enhance its efficiency and effectiveness are realized in the present prestige and contributions of that group in the governance of APA today. Through his efforts, APA Mead Johnson Fellowship was established to provide an opportunity for residents committed to public psychiatry an opportunity to learn about the challenges of community mental health. He retired from APA in 1983.


It was during his tenure at APA that he became active in the American College of Psychiatrists. He was elected Secretary-General and served in that capacity for 15 years. He received many awards during his career for his professional achievements. He won the Agnes Purcell McGavin Award of the APA in 1984 for his ground-breaking work on psychological and physiological development in young children, and he was awarded the APA Distinguished Service Award in 1997.


Ginny died from the complications of breast cancer in 1991 after a seventeen-year battle. He lived in their house in Bethesda for two more years before moving to smaller quarters. During this period he sought some help from a psychiatrist for grief counseling. When asked how he was doing, he said, “I taught a nice young man about mourning.” He maintained his active teaching role on the faculty of both medical schools of Georgetown and George Washington Universities until 2001. He continued his active participation in the Episcopal Church which he began in Los Angeles at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church. He was a senior warden on both coasts, this time at St. Luke’s in Bethesda, and he served on the Washington Diocesan Commission on the Ministry as the psychiatric consultant. In the 1990’s he served on the Standing Committee of the Diocese. He was a loyal member of the Cosmos Club, where he served for 23 years on the Board of Management and a two-year term as Secretary and Editor of the Bulletin.


In February, 1995, some mutual friends invited Henry to lunch, seating him next to Nancy Wasell Edelman. He later called the friends and asked them whether or not she was “available.” They dated for three years before they were married at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on K Street, Nancy’s home church. The reception was held at the Cosmos Club. The happy couple dined there often, Henry attired in his customary Cosmos Club bow tie. In celebration of his 95th birthday in 2006, he was honored at a gala reception by the Past Presidents of the Club and at another, one week later, in his honor hosted by his four sons.


Suffering from respiratory failure, Henry Harcus Work died in his home with his wife by his side. The memorial service was held in the nave of the National Cathedral and was attended by his four married sons, four daughters-in-law and numerous grandchildren and hundreds of friends and colleagues. Because he had donated his body to George Washington University School of Medicine, interment was delayed. Consistent with his life, at the end he continued his role as a teacher, this time as the “first patient” for a group of freshmen medical students. He was remembered at a special memorial service at GWU in May, 2008. Upon word of his death last year, the UCLA chancellor ordered the university flag to fly at half-mast in his memory. He will be buried next to Ginny at St. Luke’s Church in Bethesda.



Robert O. Pasnau