Dr. Bertram Brown: “The true strength of the character of the person will determine whether his presidency ends in accomplishment or failure.”

From the New York Times obit by Sam Roberts on mental health advocate Dr. Bertram Brown:

Dr. Bertram S. Brown, a psychiatrist who figured prominently in federal efforts to re-envision public programs to deal with mental health and intellectual disabilities in the 1960s and ’70s, died on May 14 in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. He was 89. . . .

A Brooklyn native who was trained as a classical pianist even as he envisioned a career in medicine, Dr. Brown joined the National Institute of Mental Health in 1960 and directed the agency from 1970 to 1977.

In a government career that spanned five presidential administrations, he helped expand drug abuse treatment programs and worked with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide psychiatric services to inmates. . . .

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.”

During his 17 years in Washington, Dr. Brown emerged as the capital’s most prominent mental health expert in matters of public policy. As the nation’s top mental health official, he was also called upon to offer informal counseling to cabinet members, military leaders, the Secret Service and others in the highest levels of government.

“I was the chief psychiatrist around and did ‘curbstone consultation,’” he once said.

In the process, he discovered a panacea. “Exercising power,” he told The Times, “is the most effective short-range antidepressant in the world.”

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