Dr. Bertram Brown, Mental Health Advocate, Is Dead at 89

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In 1963, a month before he was assassinated, Kennedy signed an amendment to the Social Security Act, the first major legislation to address mental illness and intellectual disabilities.

Dr. Brown worked as a special assistant to the president for issues regarding intellectual disability and later as special assistant for drug abuse prevention, serving the secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. In 1972, while deploring the spreading use of marijuana among the very young and other vulnerable groups, he asserted that penalties for its use and possession were “much too severe and much out of keeping with knowledge about its harmfulness.”

In December 1977, Dr. Brown, who had lobbied against Republican attempts to downgrade his agency, was dismissed by the new secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Joseph A. Califano Jr. Mr. Califano praised Dr. Brown’s performance but said it was time for “fresh blood.”

Dr. Brown later served as senior psychiatrist at the RAND Corporation, chairman of Horizon Health Group and, from 1983 through 1987, president of Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia.

The White House, unlike any other executive suite, is a “character crucible,” Dr. Brown was quoted as saying in “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes With Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect” (2009), by the journalist Ronald Kessler.

“Even if an individual is balanced,” Dr. Brown said, “once someone becomes president, how does one solve the conundrum of staying real and somewhat humble when one is surrounded by the most powerful office in the land, and from becoming overwhelmed by an at times pathological environment that treats you every day as an emperor?”

“Here,” he added, “is where the true strength of the character of the person, not his past accomplishments, will determine whether his presidency ends in accomplishment or failure.”


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