Joseph Fischhoff, M.D.
A Farewell To Joe
by Alvin B. Michaels, M.D.
I am honored to share my thoughts and memories of Joseph Fischhoff, M.D. I have known Joe about thirty-five years as a trusted colleague, a teacher and a mentor. As I think about him now, I recall his sweet gentleness, remarkable resiliency, indefatigability, and knowledge of the ways of the world. Joe exuded a fundamental curiosity and openness which invited others to express themselves openly. Though nationally prominent and respected, Joe remained unassuming, not at all pretentious, and very, very available. You could always trust him to listen and to be kind, and to express his opinions clearly and respectfully. He knew so much about people, psychoanalysis, psychiatry, and the various ships of state for which he had worked and led. Joe remained curious about everything--his profession, all areas of science, history and politics. Joe was very, very smart. He was the paterfamilias of child psychiatry in Michigan, and respected by all for his integrity, deep knowledge (which he generously shared), and experiences which only a seasoned veteran could accumulate.
Joe had an amazing ability to work hard--an ability he retained throughout his life. Joe had a great need to help people and to serve others. He had compassion for the downtrodden and the underdog. He was dedicated to his beloved Wayne State University Medical School and Children's Hospital of Michigan. When regimes changed, and inevitable crises occurred, Joe was asked to take charge of the Department of Psychiatry as Interim Chair; he accepted the challenge three times. In times of political change and stress he was "…a promontory of the sea, against which, though the waves beat continually, yet it both itself stands, and about it are those swelling waves stilled and quieted."*
Joe's granddaughter called him the metronome of the family, the steady beat that anchored them. He was a metronome for me and many others as well. Though remarkably productive, Joe seemed to always have time for his beloved family. Tessie, Joe's beloved wife, told me that when disappointments, hurts, and losses occurred, as they must to everyone, Joe would feel the pains deeply, and then he had the inner strength to move on, and not obsess about past disappointments and mistakes.
William Osler, an iconic figure, the great clinician, teacher and innovator of medical education and the father of modern medicine, comes to mind as I reminisce about Joe. William Osler entitled his farewell address at the University of Pennsylvania "Aequanimitas." Aequanimitas: calmness and presence of mind under all circumstances and calmness of judgment in moments of crisis. Osler said Aequanimitas is the quintessential quality for a physician--and Joe was the quintessential physician.
Joe left behind a treasure trove of scientific insights. He did original research. He wrote seminal papers clarifying the basic mechanisms of the very serious failure to thrive syndrome. In his paper "Failure to Thrive and Maternal Deprivation," Joe quoted Leonardo da Vinci: "He who appeals to authority when there is a difference of opinion, works with his memory rather than his reason." Joe had a tremendous memory, but he always worked with reason.
Joe knew that there are many variables and approaches used in research, and he wrote "…my predilection is for a holistic approach...multiple factors are involved" and "…clinical experience and psychoanalytic training have been influential in evolving this philosophy of research, and it is a stimulating and enriching experience."
As you perhaps have anticipated, Joe's enormous ability to love and work clearly evokes Sigmund Freud's insight that "love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness." Joe was so human.
So, with deep sadness, we say "Farewell" to our dear and beloved friend who had an enormous capacity to love and work, and who enriched us all. He lives on in all who knew and loved him.
* Marcus Aurelius