Skip Navigation Bar

Thomas P. Detre, MD, Academic Leader and Former NLM Board of Regents Chair Dies

Thomas P. DetreDr. Thomas P. Detre, 86, an active supporter of the National Library of Medicine and an engaged and visionary member of its governing Board of Regents, died at home October 9 after a long illness. Dr. Detre was an academic leader whose ambition and determined efforts helped propel the University of Pittsburgh's schools of the health sciences to international prominence.  He was the architect behind the transformation of the University's teaching hospitals into UPMC, an integrated global health enterprise. During Dr. Detre's tenure as the University of Pittsburgh's senior vice chancellor for the health sciences, he established an innovative funding cycle of driving dollars from clinical practice into interdisciplinary research and then applying the results of those endeavors to clinical advances. This approach attracted more patients and led to the growth of the University's medical arm and the ultimate realization of what is now UPMC, and it positioned the University to become one of the nation's top 10 recipients of research support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a status it has maintained since 1997.  Since 2004, he had held the titles of Emeritus Distinguished Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences and Emeritus Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Detre was a member of the NLM Board of Regents from 2002 to 2005 and chaired that body from 2005 to 2006.   He was a consultant to the Board from 2006 to present.  Dr. Detre served on the NLM Board as it received input from panels of outside advisers and developed the recommendations in Charting the Course for the 21st Century: NLM's Long Range Plan 2006-2016. His tenure as Chair coincided with the initial voluntary implementation of the NIH Public Access Policy.  He also chaired the Board's special NIH Public Access Policy Working Group, which was established in consultation with then NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, to review evidence of compliance with the voluntary policy and assess its effectiveness.  Dr. Zerhouni commented that Dr. Detre's expertise in psychiatry might be a particularly appropriate qualification for the assignment, given the range and strong opinions represented on the Working Group.

"Tom Detre was an outstanding clinician and researcher, and a legendary academic leader.  NLM was privileged to benefit from his vision, wide knowledge, sharp insight, and clarity of expression," said Donald A. B. Lindberg, NLM Director.  "He will be remembered for his exceptional charm, wit, and kindness, and also for his many professional achievements. He was notoriously always ready for an e-mail exchange of uproarious and irreverent stories. He treated NLM more or less as his patient. He repeatedly praised its goals and accomplishments, but he repeatedly chastised us for not having made these better known throughout the land. Once he personally supervised the writing (and re-writing) of an easy-to-understand, one page summary of NLM programs! This determination and his consistent concern for the personal problems of many NLM people makes him impossible to forget."   

Dr. Detre was born Tamas Feldmeier on May 17, 1924, in Budapest, Hungary, and decided to become a psychiatrist when he was 14. He was a 20-year-old student when he found out that his parents and 20 other relatives had been killed at Auschwitz. The following year, he renamed himself "Detre," a play on the French verb that means "to be," as a symbol of his will to continue living.  He received a bachelor's degree in classical languages from the Gymnasium of Piarist Fathers in Kecskemet, Hungary in 1942, and completed his medical degree at the University of Rome School of Medicine in 1952. He interned at Morrisania City Hospital in New York, and trained in psychiatry at Mt. Sinai Hospital, New York, and Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. He held clinical and academic appointments at Yale-New Haven Hospital and had been psychiatrist-in-chief there from 1968 to 1973, when he moved to Pittsburgh with his first wife, renowned epidemiologist Katherine M. Detre, MD, DrPH. She died in January 2006, almost 50 years after they married.

In addition to his numerous administrative accomplishments, Dr. Detre was a member of more than 20 medical societies and authored or co-authored scientific papers, textbook chapters and a well-recognized book on psychiatric treatment. He served on a variety of advisory boards for the National Institutes of Health, including NLM's, the US Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Veterans Affairs; served as president of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology; and was active on numerous committees and task forces for various agencies, organizations and philanthropies. 

Dr. Detre also was the recipient of many professional honors.  He was elected a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1998, received an honorary medical degree from Semmelweis University, Budapest, in 2003, and was  awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by Carnegie Mellon University in 2009. In 2000, the University of Pittsburgh named the WPIC building Thomas Detre Hall in his honor.

Dr. Detre is survived by his second wife, Ellen Ormond, PhD, of Point Breeze, Pennsylvania, sons John A. Detre, MD, of Philadelphia, and Antony J. Detre, of New York City, and four grandchildren.

The National Library of Medicine is the world's largest medical library and a component of the National Institutes of Health.


#  #  #