Libby A. Tanner, the clinical social worker/sex therapist who helped establish the nations first family medicine department at the University of Miami medical school in the 1960s died of cancer at her Miami Beach home on Aug. 2.
From 1975 to 1981, Tanner headed the medical schools undergraduate medical education department. Among the courses she created and taught: Human Sexuality and Medical Interviewing.
One of the aims of this course...is to help doctors become more comfortable with their own sexual attitudes and help them deal more comfortably with other peoples sexual concerns, she told The Miami Herald in 1976. This whole area of sexuality should be taken more seriously because many people have problems which can affect their marriages as well as their general health.
A 1980 follow-up story described how Tanner taught professional manners to medical students.
They learn to make eye contact with a patient, not to fiddle with pens and papers and look bored while the patient talks, not to put up barriers, such as an office desk, between themselves and a patient.
Tanner told students it was all right for patients and doctors to use each others first name, even though some doctors might be offended.
The day of the consumer is here, she said.
A social progressive, Tanner worked closely with Dr. Lynn Carmichael, the Family Medicine Departments first dean, considered the father of family medicine, and shared his commitment to social justice in healthcare delivery. She counseled Cuban refugee children who arrived in the early Castro regime years, children in foster care, and Broward families through the old Jewish Family Service of Hollywood.
Tanner was on the cutting edge of her specialty, and controversial, said Dr. Bernard Fogel, dean emeritus of whats now called UMs Miller School of Medicine.
There were even individuals in medicine at the time who felt that [teaching sexuality to medical students] was crossing the line. They raised eyebrows.
But Tanner understood early that sexual dysfunction contributed to a variety of mental and physical illnesses, Fogel said, now an accepted premise
She was a remarkable woman.
She blew the minds of naive students when she brought openly gay and transvestite friends to address her classes, daughter Lauri Tanner said.
Born Libby Arkin in Cincinnati on Dec. 25, 1926, Tanner spent her early years in Kingsport, Tenn., to which her family fled after her father, a Socialist labor organizer, was nearly killed in Ohio, said her sister, Tillie Salter.
The family came to South Florida in 1943, yet Libby never lost her love for the mountains, Lauri said.
Even after learning last year that she had advanced cancer, she insisted on hiking Yosemite National Park to celebrate her daughters law school graduation.
Tanner, who held a doctorate from Californias Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, was 85, widowed since the 2008 death of her husband, Dr. Robert I. Tanner, longtime staff optometrist for the UM athletic department.
They met in Miami Beach and were married for 58 years, most of them spent in Pinecrest. They became part of a liberal conclave of whites active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, when parts of Miami-Dade remained segregated.
Her fathers leftist views inspired her, said her daughter. She recalled that her mother once threw a cup of coffee in the face of a diner owner who refused to serve the familys black housekeeper at the same table as the Tanners.
She really educated us about human rights, Lauri Tanner said of herself and her sister, Sally Tanner, of Kendall.
In addition to her doctorate, Tanner, who served on the UM faculty from 1968-1989, held degrees from UM, Ohio State University and Barry University, where she later taught.
She trained at the Indiana Universitys famous Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, and at the Masters and Johnson Institute in St. Louis.
A frequent television and radio talk-show guest on everything from geriatric sex to child abuse, Tanner had a busy private practice treating transsexuals, fetishists, depressives, and uptight married couples.
Her CV notes that her largely Anglo practice included Hispanic and black clients, as well as those with a low socio-economic status. There has also been a sprinkling of Arabs, Egyptians and European clients over the years.
An international speaker and expert witness, she testified for the defense in a sensational 1981 obscenity trial involving Spanish-language versions of the porn classics Deep Throat and Debbie Does Dallas.
She told the jury, which ultimately deadlocked, that she found the films humorous...I think its healthy for a couple to go see these films. They can talk about what they saw, they can laugh together...This enhances sexual communication, expands a couples repertoire, and reduces performance anxiety.
Among her publications: Too Many Voices: A Healing Relationship Llumina Press, 2004) , with Caryle Hirshberg and Linda Cline, R.N., a sometimes suicidal, self-mutilating patient with multiple-personality disorder stemming from childhood sexual abuse.
Libby helped us all, children and adults, inside and out, Cline wrote in a forward, speaking for the many personalities eventually integrated into one. She more than helped us; she loved us, protected us, cherished us.
Cline now lives and works in Colorado.
In her afterword, Tanner wrote: This was the most exciting, painful and exhilarating therapy journey I ever took...I became less pragmatic, less linear, and more able to trust my intuition.
Raised in an observant Jewish home, Tanner evolved to accept the universal spirit that unites us all, her daughter said. She requested cremation.
A memorial service to celebrate Libby Tanners life will be held at 1
The family suggests memorial donations to three of her favorite charities: Doctors Without Borders, www.doctorswithoutborders.org/donate/tribute.cfm; the Rosenberg Fund for Children:http://www.rfc.org/tributegifts; Womens Emergency Network, http://wenmiami.org/how-you-can-help-2.
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