Renowned child psychiatrist being honored with endowed professorship

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Tina Shelton, (808) 692-0897
Director of Communications, Office of Dean of Medicine
Posted: Dec 14, 2015

Dr. John "Jack" McDermott. Photo by Linda Adamson, Kahala Nui.
Dr. John "Jack" McDermott. Photo by Linda Adamson, Kahala Nui.

John F. “Jack” McDermott, MD, a leading international figure in child psychiatry, died on December 6, 2015, just six days before his 86th birthday.

McDermott was emeritus professor and founding chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the UH medical school, and received the profession’s highest honors for expanding the understanding of social and cultural influences on child and adolescent mental health and treatment, and for advancing the standards of psychiatric practice.

“Jack’s contributions to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the specialty are unmistakable,” said AACAP President Gregory K. Fritz, MD. “He was an exceptional leader, mentor, teacher and friend.”

McDermott built the first psychiatry training programs in Hawai’i, recruiting and training record numbers of Native Hawaiian and ethnically diverse doctors to serve Hawaii’s people, earning him lifelong respect and widespread affection.

His commitment to developing indigenous models of practice went beyond Hawai‘i. Chairing the Child Psychiatry Section of the World Psychiatric Association for over a decade, he introduced Child Psychiatry to Indonesia in the early '70s, starting a collaboration between the University of Hawaii and University of Indonesia that continues today.

McDermott was Editor in Chief of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACP) from 1988-97, and coedited the seminal textbook Childhood Psychopathology used to teach and train generations of Child & Adolescent Psychiatrists. He published a dozen books including several popular with readers outside psychiatry, among them Raising Cain (and Abel too): The Parents Book of Sibling Rivalry and People and Cultures of Hawai‘i: The Evolution of Culture and Ethnicity, which he co-edited with Naleen Andrade, MD. 

“He was my great mentor,” said Andrade, inspired by McDermott to become the first female Native Hawaiian psychiatrist, and who now leads graduate medical education at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM). “During his final decade as department chair, 18% of the graduating psychiatrists from our training programs were Native Hawaiian.  He significantly improved mental health care in Hawai‘i, especially for underserved populations,” said Andrade, who succeeded McDermott as department chair from 1995-2012.

McDermott left a tenured professorship at the University of Michigan and moved his family to Hawai’i in 1969 to help build the state’s fledgling medical school into a four-year degree granting institution with Dean Terry Rogers, and founded its Department of Psychiatry. “It was the challenge of a lifetime, and McDermott proved himself more than up to the task,” said JABSOM Dean Jerris R. Hedges, MD.

Initially, McDermott worked from an unused x-ray room, little more than a closet, at Leʻahi Hospital, the original home of JABSOM. McDermott famously had to use a pay phone in the hallway to make business calls, making an unforgettable impression on mental health funders in Washington, D.C.  “I had to call them collect since we didn’t have a phone budget,” McDermott explained earlier this year, as JABSOM celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding.

During the next 25 years, from 1969-1995, McDermott built training programs in general psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry and geriatric psychiatry. Now based at The Queen’s Medical Center, JABSOM’s Department of Psychiatry is the state’s largest organized group of practicing psychiatrists.

“I always felt that the biggest contribution I made . . . was to get Jack to join us in Hawai‘i from Michigan,” said Walter Char, MD, Professor-emeritus and Chair of JABSOM’s original psychiatry section.

He served as psychiatry consultant for Mary Kawena Pukui’s Nānā i ke Kumu, Look to the Source Vol II, an invaluable resource on Hawaiian customs and cultural traditions. 

“Dad’s work with Mary Kawena Pukui shortly after arriving in Hawai‘i was, I think, a gateway that launched his lifelong commitment to Hawai‘i and Hawaiians and his passion for promoting community-based, culturally grounded approaches to understanding and healing mental illness nationally and internationally,” said his daughter, Beth McDermott. “He relentlessly sought out and championed bright young docs, both men and women, who understood the importance of context --  social, cultural, political and historical -- to their practice.”

“Jack described himself as a ‘naturalized haole’ in homage to the Hawaiian monarchs who fostered a society of inclusivity and accommodation generating cultural and psychological changes among its indigenous and immigrant peoples . . . an empowering model for multiculturalism,” said Andrade, “As a naturalized haole inspired by Pukui he practiced mālama po‘e Hawai‘i (honor and care for Hawai‘i’s people) with the depth and integrity of a kanaka maoli (indigenous Hawaiian), while never trying to be Native Hawaiian.”

McDermott mentored record numbers of Hawaiian psychiatrists who went on to become leading clinicians and scholars. Working with a cadre of those doctors, he conducted ground-breaking epidemiological research on the mental health status of Hawaiian youth. 

Recounts daughter Beth, "Dad was a voracious reader and world traveler with an endless curiosity about people and cultures. He was always with a book, sometimes reading 3-4 at a time, along with news media, scientific journals. Anything he could get his hands on. You could always count on Dad to impart some bit of wisdom or insight at opportune moments, usually with a bit of wit and a twinkle in his eye."

“He also had a special fondness for Star Wars, and wrote an article analyzing the movies (Star Wars‑‑the modern developmental fairy tale, Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, Vol. 44, No. 4, 1980), which makes me think of him as our Obi-Wan,” said Stacy Drury, MD, PhD, a psychiatry professor at Tulane University and a co-editor of JAACP. “I expect that he will indeed become more powerful now that he is somewhere else watching over us.”

McDermott is survived by his wife of 57 years Sally, son John, daughter Beth, and grandchildren Piper, Jack IV, and Phoebe.  Services will be held Sunday, January 10, 2016, at 3 p.m. at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in Honolulu. In lieu of flowers, donations to JABSOM’s endowed professorship in psychiatry, honoring McDermott, Char and Andrade may be made online at

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