Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Loss of a True "Mensch"

On March 1, 2015, the world lost a true mensch and a tsaddik, a righteous man.  Dr. Wayne Katon, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Division of Health Services and Epidemiology and Vice Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington Medical School died after a long battle with lymphoma.    He was internationally renowned for his research on anxiety and depressive disorders in primary care, the relationship of psychiatric disorders to medically unexplained symptoms such as headache and fatigue, and the impact of depression and anxiety on patients with chronic medical illness.   Through his career he developed innovative models of integrating mental health professionals and other allied health personnel into the provision of medical care to improve overall care and directed a National Institute of Mental Health funded National Research Service Award Primary Care-Psychiatry Fellowship that successfully trained psychiatrists and primary care physicians for leadership positions for over 25 years.  He was also a member of the Medical Advisory Board at Accolade and contributed to our combined medical-psychosocial-financial model that helps people as they deal with the illnesses they face. 


I use those two Yiddish words, mensch and tsaddik, to describe Dr. Katon because for all his academic accolades and credentials, what stands out for me was his goodness and humanity.  Those two words are independent of any religious implications and are just better descriptors than any words I could find in English of that essential goodness.  The definition of a mensch in English is an upstanding, worthy honorable adult person of either sex, even though the word mensch literally means man or human being.  A tsaddik is defined as a righteous person.  There is a story in the Babylonian Talmud that states that the world requires 36 tsaddiks, righteous people, for the world to survive at any point in time.   Wayne Katon was one of those righteous people whose goodness kept this world going.  He is survived by his wife and childhood sweetheart, Bobbi Geiger, their two daughters, and four grandchildren.  He is also survived by all of those people he fathered and grandfathered through his clinical care, teaching and writing as he made this a better world.