I received a phone call from Brazil late last night with the news I had been dreading. My very dear friend Márcio, nephew of my late husband, is no longer with us. He had been struggling with heart disease for a long time and was once again being treated in the cardiac intensive care unit in a Belo Horizonte hospital. His family was with him in the afternoon and they had been able to communicate, but later in the night his heart gave out once and for all. He was 82. He was an important presence in my life for 47 years.
Márcio has left so many legacies that it’s hard to know where to begin. I would like to review some highlights of his professional career and also recall some of the times we have shared, especially with his wonderful family, the personal gift that he has passed on to me.
After graduating as a Doctor of Medicine from the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Márcio came to the United States for his internship and residency in psychiatry at hospitals in Baltimore, following in the footsteps of his uncle, John (João Baptista) Vasconcellos. On becoming a full-fledged psychiatrist, he worked at the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital while also developing a private practice.
It was during this time when he was in Baltimore that I first got to know him. I married his uncle, Sylvio. We were in Washington, but Baltimore was less than an hour away, and we often got together. We had outings, went to parties, and the two men would have conversations that lasted long into the night. Érika came up from Brazil and they got married. Their first daughter, Vanessa, was born.
Márcio had become a U.S. citizen, but he was always torn between his native and adopted countries–each had its attractions and drawbacks. In 1974 he felt called to return to Brazil, where he remained for 13 years and established a prestigious medical center. Marcos, their second, was born, and finally Alessandra. The family was complete.
They would come back to Maryland on visits. I remember covering my dining-room table with a roll of brown paper and keeping the kids entertained.
In 1987, his colleagues back in Baltimore made him an offer he couldn’t refuse and he found himself in Maryland once again. One of his reasons for the move was that he wanted the children to have an American education.
Márcio’s work first came to national attention in the United States when he was featured in the Baltimore Sun Sunday magazine on May 13, 1990. Márcio (6 feet tall) is pictured on the cover standing nearly back to back to the (much taller) superintendent of the Springfield State Hospital, advocate of “treating and streeting” psychiatric patients. The article begins:
“In a serene rolling pasture north of Baltimore in the Carroll County community of Sykesville sit the aging brick cottages of the Springfield State Hospital. … Within those buildings, two psychiatrists whose early career paths crossed in Baltimore in 1974 find themselves together again. … One of the men, Dr. Marcio Vasconcellos Pinheiro, is a native Brazilian much respected in his home country as an advocate of the psychodynamic approach to mental healing pioneered by Freud. The other, Dr. Bruce Hershfield, is a respected clinical psychiatrist who is also known as an efficient front-line administrator of public mental health policies. Ironically, Dr. Pinheiro and Dr. Hershfield find themselves on the opposite sides of the psychiatric revolution. …
“Sixteen years ago Dr. Marcio Pinheiro arrived back in his native Brazil like a zealous missionary, eager to teach and practice an approach to psychiatry that had been instilled in him during a long education in Maryland medical schools and hospitals. … Known as psychodynamic psychotherapy, its aim was to help all mental patients grow to future health through a structured process of relearning their past. In Brazil, in Dr. Pinheiro’s home town of Belo Horizonte, … this approach was unheard of. … Dr. Pinheiro’s gentle, charismatic style inspired a new generation of young psychiatrists and mental health professionals. He founded his own hospital and medical school, teaching and practicing what he had learned at the University of Maryland, the Rosewood State Hospital, and the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital. Trained also in the lengthy process of psychoanalysis, he was known in Belo Horizonte as an American psychiatrist. n 13 years he developed a reputation as a kind of guru, known widely for his belief that a patient must be understood from a dynamic and social point of view.”
The article goes on to quote him as saying that this position “is now considered, in descending order: irrelevant, inefficient, and ultimately wasteful.” But he was not about to give up.
After the article appeared, Márcio became a prominent figure in the movement to return to “talk therapy.” He published extensively in English and Portuguese and has posted 25 articles in Portuguese on his website: www.drmarciovasconcellospinheiro.com. To give an idea of his willingness to stand up to the establishment, one of his articles in English, published in February 1992, was titled “The Selling of Clinical Psychiatry in America.”
He eventually returned to Belo Horizonte to spend his last years there – but not to retire. For 15 more years he continued to see patients. Érika, for her part, has a family counseling practice. They have “his” and “her” offices in a separate part of their home.
Márcio also remained active in the American Psychiatric Association and the International Society for Psychological and Social Approaches to Psychosis (ISPS). He encouraged Daniel Mackler to produce the feature-length film Take These Broken Wings, the story of two women with schizophrenia who were healed with “talk therapy” http://wildtruth.net/dvd/brokenwings/.
He kept up a regular dialogue on Facebook with his 725 friends, always gently pushing the envelope with his daily probing and insightful comments, which never failed to spark a debate.
He will be remembered forever by his amazing family, all of whom have been shaped by his constant wise and calming presence. Besides Érika and his three children, he leaves a son-in-law, Cláudio, granddaughter Sophia, and daughter-in-law, Rebecca. He also leaves a brother, João Renato, and his wife Ana Maria, and sister, Branca Heloïsa, and her husband Paulo Ben-Hur, and their respective families. These people are all my family, too, and I share the pain of their loss.
His brother Maurício died in 1971 and his brother Celso, in 2008.
I feel especially blessed that Márcio’s three adult children have chosen to live in Southern California and are part of my life now even more than before. My heart is with them, and with Érika, during this sad and difficult time.