From our newsletter, a Memorial Article about Marvin Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.

Marvin Margolis, M.D., Ph.D. Some Personal Reminiscences

by David Dietrich, Ph.D.

Past MPI President (2011-2014)

I wish to share some of my recollections of Dr. Margolis to celebrate him. This is not a curriculum vitae and we are all mourning his great loss in our own way and collectively.

I first met him a little less than fifty years ago when I moved to Michigan from Chicago to do a postdoc fellowship at the Detroit Psychiatric Institute, a teaching hospital of WSU Psychiatry Department. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, he was a relatively young analyst and I was in my twenties. There was a case conference where Dr. Margolis presented a complex and challenging analytic case and Deedie Holtzman would attend (she was a candidate at the time) and Mayer Subrin was the TA and I learned much from Marvin’s style of analysis.

Dr. Margolis perfected the art of curiosity in clinical psychoanalysis in my view.

Once he told me how he would help out in his father’s dry goods store while growing up in Detroit and if a customer would come into the store and ask for a hat that wasn’t available, his father would say “sure you can get that hat, come back tomorrow and you can pick it up.” So the answer

wasn’t no, we can’t do that. Dr. Margolis made masterful and skillful use of that approach in his vast leadership and outreach activities.

The very successful and creative early admission program and clinical moment program which he started (and I was fortunate to help him establish and run) were both complex variations on his optimistic outlook.

Marvin told me he attended medical school not because it was his goal but rather because he deeply wanted to become a psychoanalyst and, at the time, that was required. He first earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from MSU and then attended medical school at WSU.

Dr. Margolis wasn’t about self-importance or winning and losing. He was about helping. Helping and benefiting others: patients, candidates, colleagues, institutes and organizations and the community. He greatly helped vast numbers of people, near and far. He was loved by all. In our world this is rare. Marvin possessed a wonderful modesty and even though he was a far better analyst than most, he lacked any arrogance. This is also rare.

Many years ago, Dr. Margolis and I organized a symposium on psychoanalytic treatment of patients who experienced childhood sexual abuse and we each served as a discussant for our two invited analysts. Marvin decided the British analyst Brendan McCarthy ought to stay in my home and so our daughter was displaced from her room and she wasn’t happy having a strange man sleeping in her room.

Dr. Margolis did not feel he was the fount of all knowledge. He was kind and gentle and always curious to learn more. He had that special twinkle in his eye. Extremely open minded, he loved to listen to analytic presentations and he loved to read.

Years ago, we participated in a program at the IPA Mexio City meetings and one afternoon we spent hours in the Museum of Anthropology appreciating and talking about these fascinating cultures and history from an analytic lens. He was always excited to learn about different cultures. He loved the Stratford Festival and gardening. Dr. Margolis brought his limitless interest and appreciation of theater, cultures, literature, and religion to his deep understanding of the human mind and experience.

In the mid-nineties when I quoted Einstein in remarks at my daughter’s Bat Mitzva and the rabbi didn’t approve of my quotation, Marvin was tactfully critical of the rabbi!

Merely because an analyst published often did not impress Dr. Margolis. For Marvin it was all about the analyst’s actual clinical work and what kind of human being they were. He had little patience for pomposity or arrogance in anyone and he was an excellent and incisive judge of character.

Marvin was famously known to make late night phone calls and he once shared that he didn’t call as late as Otto Kernberg – he didn’t call at 2:00 or 3:00 am!

Dr. Margolis was a master of being able to engage someone right where they were. He was deeply compassionate and extremely bright and he could effortlessly size up an analyst according to their capacity. Marvin was the psychoanalyst’s analyst and people consulted him from far and wide.

Analysts generally don’t find talking about love very fashionable but I have come to realize that the myriad activities Marvin was involved in – practice, supervising, teaching, leadership, outreach, friendship, etc. were all various manifestations of his great love and kindness.

Dr. Margolis was very wise and he was not about materialism. He prioritized psychoanalysis and the mind and reducing human suffering and benefitting others.

Shortly before I graduated from the Institute, I had a patient in analysis who experienced childhood parent loss and at that time my father was dying and Marvin softly encouraged me to share with the patient that my father was dying (the patient was responding to subtle changes in me because of my travels) and that deepened the analysis and I later presented that case at the IPA and to our Society. That was because of Marvin.

Marvin lived what Freud and Loewald were getting at in their analogy of how the sculptor (and analyst) can see potentialities in stone and (in a patient) that others cannot see and has not yet been brought out. He felt there was more to life than ordinary misery. He was endlessly generous with his time and he was spontaneously friendly and welcoming to all.

Many, many years ago, I stayed in his home while he was traveling to watch his children who were young at the time.

With Dr. Margolis you intuitively knew you were in the presence of a rare analyst – a rare person – not someone ordinary.

I remember once a colleague presented a paper that was essentially a homage to Paul Grey’s style of analysis and after the discussion Marvin stood up and spontaneously began to casually mention that the patient isn’t a cadaver, and that the analyst doesn’t talk to a cadaver, and that the analyst isn’t a cadaver talking to a cadaver and people in the audience began to chuckle and giggle. He had beautifully and elegantly captured something profound, precious and delightful in a few brief comments.

The terms sea change and paradigm shift (Kuhn) are sometimes thrown around but Dr. Margolis did in fact bring about a sea change and paradigm shift within American

psychoanalysis and within the American Psychoanalytic Association. He served as chairman of BOPS (the Board on Professional Standards) and as president of the American Psychoanalytic Association. He also served as president of the Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute and the Michigan Psychoanalytic Society. He cared deeply about standards and change simultaneously.

For years I was in a study group with Marvin and often when someone would go on and on about what they felt was important, Marvin would sit back and listen and eventually say in a few words what turned out to be more insightful and more profound.

Dr. Margolis planted many seeds and he brought to fruition many local and national gems. And although as a young candidate I had an official advisor, Marvin was my actual advisor and mentor. Over decades and during countless hours that we spent together doing clinical moment and early admission programs and driving to EC meetings and discussing cases I continued to learn from him. I felt immensely fortunate and grateful to continue to benefit from his insights. We co-taught many courses together.

When I served as MPS president it was my honor to establish the Marvin Margolis, M.D., Ph.D. Award as a small gesture of appreciation for all that he did for so many.

Performing outreach consultations for large numbers of institutes as part of the IPA committee, I was fortunate to watch him in action and help him benefit so many places, candidates, and faculty. A few institutes were even brought back to life.

Dr. Margolis’ perspective was vast. The world was a better place with him. We are all better human beings because of him.

Marvin’s passing is the end of an era. We can take some comfort that he will continue to inspire us and serve as a model. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his beloved Tami, and his children and their spouses, and grandchildren, and to all who loved him.

3 Responses to “From our newsletter, a Memorial Article about Marvin Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.”

  1. Bernadette Kovach

    Beautiful memories of a kind and generous analyst who believed in possibilities and solutions. I do hope that those of us who were touched by him can carry his open minded perspectives and can do attitude with us for future generations.
    Well said David, thank you.

  2. Ivan Sherick, Ph.D.

    A warm, compassionate guy who was welcoming to members who were not formerly trained at MPI. I was one of those analysts who received telephone calls late at night from Marvin. He was always warm and friendly and easy to forgive.

  3. Ivan Sherick Ph.D.

    A warm, generous , welcoming individual.
    He will be missed.

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