Columnists :: South End Character
Dr. Malamud, Community Psychiatrist by Alison Barnet
MySouthEnd.com ContributorThursday May 10, 2012 Dr. Bill Malamud retires this month after some sixty years in the South End. He has been on the faculty of medicine at BU since 1960, a professor of psychiatry since 1969, and a South End Community Health Center psychiatrist for forty years. Respected and well-liked, he has done more than his share and will be hard to replace.
When he entered the BU School of Medicine in 1950, he was following in his father’s footsteps. In 1946, William I. Malamud, Sr., had become the medical school’s first full-time head of psychiatry, organizing the department and developing key services. He was instrumental in starting Fuller Mental Health Center. Bill’s mother was a social worker whose radicalism was also a great influence on Bill.
The two Dr. Malamuds usually drove in together from Weston, and Bill Jr. claims he liked the South End from the first, finding the buildings attractive, albeit in rough shape.
At the time, medical students worked out of an 1870 building to which a tower building was added in 1892-the present medical school wasn’t built until fall 1968. The anatomy department was on the tower’s second floor, and Malamud remembers working on cadavers and finding it strange to look out the windows and see little children and nuns-the Home for Destitute Catholic Children was at the corner of Harrison and East Concord. The brand new Cathedral Projects was just down the street; married medical students lived there.
At Boston City Hospital, where medical students trained, James Michael Curley’s patronage system remained in force, even though he was no longer mayor. Elevators required three employees: operator, someone to read magazines, and a bookie. "Bookies were everywhere," says Malamud, "but mainly at City Hospital."
As a teenager, he had spent a summer working outdoors with Worcester State Hospital mental patients. One day, a truck got stuck in mud, and he didn’t know what to do. A schizophrenic suggested, "Let the air out of the tires." "How did you know that?" asked Malamud. "I may be crazy but I’m not stupid," said the man. Malamud learned then that "patients are people before being patients." Stories like this, told with his characteristic humor and kindness, endeared Malamud to his clients. By the same token, he was always a skilled clinician, never missing a thing.
In the mid-Sixties, Malamud became part of the community psychiatry movement, which paired community leaders with professionals, the professionals to learn from the community people. He worked at SNAP (South End Neighborhood Action Program) and the Roxbury Multi-Service Center, where he saw people in terrible distress, often as a result of Urban Renewal. Balking at labeling people psychotic if they refused to move, he looked for compassionate alternatives. Once, he visited a man who refused to move from the last house on an eminent domain site. Noticing a wall of World War II pictures, he talked with him about his war experiences. His interest and compassion helped the man make a decision about where to go-with his pictures.
"We did unconventional things," he says. "Once I babysat for a woman."
He learned to make no assumptions. A patient once told him he spent his spare time at the Rainbow Lounge, a "bucket of blood," and Malamud assumed the worst. It turned out the bartender was giving the man good advice. Malamud went in and consulted with the bartender to find out what he was doing that worked so well. Classic Malamud!
While chairman of community psychiatry, Malamud had an office in the old St. Phillip’s rectory (now Rosie’s Place). He along with students and staff frequented Johnny Corey’s on the corner of Northampton Street- a traditional medical school watering hole. Always game, he also went to the Hi-Hat and other Mass. Ave. jazz spots and to belly dancing clubs.
About the South End today, he says, "Expensive-my God! But there are some marvelous places: Montgomery Park, Chester Park." In general, he liked it better in the old days and finds the "not in my neighborhood" attitude upsetting.
His wife Camille, whom he met when they were children, also has South End roots. In 1952, she lived at the Franklin Square House, where Bill visited her in a "beau parlor," a little room with short curtains so staff could check for two pairs of feet on the floor. After going to Spain, she became a Spanish translator at South End agencies, including United South End Settlements. The couple has six children.
What will he do in his retirement? Continue to learn. Already a resident of a retirement village on a college campus, he takes courses. He’ll take more. Says a patient, "Dr. Malamud lives as though he got an A every day."
Alison Barnet is the author of Extravaganza King: Robert Barnet and Boston Musical Theater. She has lived in the South End since 1964 and has been writing about it for almost as long.