Obituary | Theodore Millon, 85

Leading personality theorist, psychologist and University of Miami professor Theodore Millon dies at 85

 

hcohen@MiamiHerald.com

Theodore Millon’s most significant memory of his youth, he wrote in a 2001 autobiography for his family, instigated by the events of 9/11, was one of familial warmth.

Millon, a major figure in the field of psychology and the treatment of personality disorders, wrote: “[It] was my father’s all-consuming affection for me (the roots of my secure narcissism, I am sure), most charmingly illustrated by the fact that he brought home a gift for me (toy, game, book) every working day from the time I was 2 until I turned 13.”

Millon, who died Wednesday at his home in Greenville Township, N.Y., at age 85, was born in Manhattan as the only child to immigrant parents from Lithuania and Poland and raised in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He would use these memories of his formative years in the development of diagnostic questionnaire tools such as the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory and earlier versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Assessment tools

These psychological assessment tools, for which he was a key contributor during his tenure with the Neuropsychiatric Institute of the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago in the late 1960s and ’70s, are still used by clinicians and researchers, along with psychiatric drug regulation agencies and pharmaceutical companies, the health insurance industry and the legal system to classify and understand various disorders.

“The profession’s acceptance of my upgraded assessment tools, especially the MCMI-III, has been exceptionally gratifying,” he wrote in his autobiography. “It ranks now second only to the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) and the Rorschach as the most frequently employed of the psychodiagnostic tools in this country.”

University of Miami

Millon, who moved to Coral Gables in the late ’70s, would enjoy a lengthy run as clinical psych director at the University of Miami “as a retirement position” beginning in 1977, but he was customarily productive. Along with Neil Schneiderman, a physiological psychologist, he established a doctoral clinical health psychology program at UM.

He was also a senior scientific scholar emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Personality and Psychopathology, and through his five-decade career taught at Lehigh and the University of Illinois and was a visiting professor at Harvard Medical School. He published more than 25 books, including his favorite, Masters of the Mind: Exploring the Story of Mental Illness from Ancient Times to the New Millennium (Wiley; $35), for which he led a reading at Coral Gables’ Books & Books in 2004. He earned his PhD from the University of Connecticut.

“Teaching became my professional raison d’etre, one which I loved from the start and one I continue to cherish to this waning day of my academic career,” he wrote in 2001.

Daughter Carrie Millon, of Pinecrest, followed her father’s lead into the field of psychology and worked with him at UM.

Arts passion

“He was an incredible man in so many ways,” she said. “You’re not supposed to brag … but what a brilliant, brilliant mind. He was the prototypical renaissance man.”

That’s because Millon was passionate about the arts, too. He loved acting, singing, painting, sculpting and was an art collector and classical music aficionado.

During high school, and as an undergrad at City College of New York, he was tempted into a theatrical or singing career — he sang with crooner Vic Damone and, as a kid, was best buddies with Maurice Sendak, an illustrator who would go on to fame with his children’s books, including Where the Wild Things Are, and the 1975 animated TV musical Really Rosie with songwriter Carole King. These artsy vocations, his parents told him, were not befitting “a nice Jewish boy.” Academia and the field of psychology would have to do.

But what fun he had in that Bensonhurst neighborhood. He wrote of sharing “Harry Potter-like” adventures on the front steps of his friends’ homes. These pals included Sendak and Wally, the only African-American youngster in their neighborhood and Marvin, a quiet and intelligent boy with a severe speech and hearing impairment.

“Both were persona non-grata kids, poked fun at or completely shunned by both local peers and adults,” he remembered. “It was not any humanistic impulse or deviance on my part that drew me to them; I simply found both interesting and thoughtful peers.”

Legacy

Carrie Millon says that that love has been returned to the family in the numerous calls and correspondence that arrived from former students who learned that Millon’s health was failing.

“We’ve had such an incredible outpouring of support from all over the place,” she said. “His greatest legacy was his students. And in every single letter we received, every one of them said, ‘You’re like a father to me.’ He was an incredibly generous man and that’s coming back to us in droves.”

Millon is survived by his wife, Renee, whom he married in 1952, their children Diane Bobb, Carrie Millon, Andrew Millon, Adrienne Hemsley, eight grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and a niece and nephew. Services will be at 1 p.m. Sunday at Temple Sinai, 75 Highland Ave., Middletown, NY.

The family would like to place a bench in Millon’s honor in Central Park. To make a donation, instead of flowers, write Central Park Conservancy, Attn: Adopt-a-Bench, 14 E. 60th St., New York, NY 10022 and cite Theodore Millon Bench.

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