Dr. Ellen G. McDaniel, whose distinguished career in psychiatry spanned more than 40 years and influenced patients, medical students and even juries, died of lung cancer Thursday at her home in Highland. She was 71.
The former Ellen Garb was raised in Cleveland and went off to college with thoughts of becoming a nurse. But her father encouraged her to train as a doctor, and she did — graduating from the University of Michigan Medical School as one of only seven women in the class of 1966, said her husband, John P. McDaniel.
"She was a trailblazer," he said.
The McDaniels graduated together from Michigan, were married the next day and went off to Delaware Hospital in Wilmington, he to work in administration and she to do a rotating internship.
Dr. McDaniel joined the University of Maryland School of Medicine as a faculty member in 1970. Her 22 years there — including 10 as associate dean for admissions — improved a generation of students and young doctors, her colleagues said.
"The field of psychiatry and mental health was really served well by her," said Denis J. Madden, a psychologist who worked at the school before becoming an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. "She helped form leaders and form good docs."
She saw people holistically. She got to know applicants to the school beyond their grades and test scores, and she impressed upon medical students that patients with physiological problems have emotional and psychological needs, too — as do their families.
"For those of us who trained in psychiatry at the University of Maryland, there was a very stiff competition to have her as a supervisor," said Dr. Paul McClelland, chief of psychiatry at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, who counts himself as one of the students she influenced. "Ellen was so knowledgeable, and at the same time, so down-to-earth. … You left wanting to be a better psychiatrist and a better person."
Dr. McDaniel brought humor to duties that other faculty members might have griped about — seeing more than 35 unfamiliar patients in a single day while pulling a weekend shift at the hospital, for instance. She didn't complain. She laughed.
"She just had a real disarming sense of humor that made it so safe to reveal your own character flaws and just be more genuine," said Dr. McClelland, who worked with her at the medical school after training there. "Her patients absolutely loved her. … She just made you comfortable being yourself."
And she was cheerful despite a specialty that could easily depress: forensic psychiatry, the intersection of mental health and crime. She testified in cases across the mid-Atlantic, speaking to defendants' mental states and other details that influence decisions on guilt or sentencing.
William J. Rowan III, a retired Montgomery County circuit judge, said Dr. McDaniel was such a respected expert that "the hardest thing" he ever did was rule against her recommendation on whether to accept the insanity defense of a young Marine who stabbed his father to death.
Dr. McDaniel, who worked in private practice after leaving the University of Maryland in 1992, focused entirely on forensic psychiatry in the past decade. Earlier, she had also seen patients in a general practice.
Her professional life was just a piece of the whole, though. She raised two children. She was a founding board member of the Baltimore Lab School for bright students with learning disabilities. She gardened. She wrote short stories. She raised thoroughbred racehorses, with her husband, on their farm. She served on state panels, including a task force on domestic violence. And she traveled extensively — going to dozens of countries, from Iceland to Cambodia.
"One time I asked her what she was going to do for her vacation, and she bowled me over when she told me she was going bungee jumping in Thailand," Judge Rowan said.
Mr. McDaniel, who called his wife "a master of multi-tasking," said she also advocated for social issues she felt passionate about, among them gay rights and repealing the death penalty. She used her sense of humor to ensure that Maryland's ballot measure to approve same-sex marriage got one more vote than it otherwise would have.
"She said, 'Look, you promise me you're going to vote for gay marriage,'" said her husband, a Republican who often canceled out her more liberal votes. "I said, 'Well, I'm not sure I can do that.' She said, 'No, look, you're not going to deny a dying woman's last request!' "
It worked. He laughs at the recollection.
Dr. McDaniel spent the past 30 years battling with cancer — first ovarian, then breast, then non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and finally lung. The lymphoma was a close thing: It was only through an experimental program in Nebraska that she was able to get a bone-marrow transplant, and the doctors gave her a 2 percent chance of living five years afterward. Instead, she lived for 20.
"The perspective that Ellen always had was how blessed and privileged she had been," Mr. McDaniel said. "She would say to people, 'I've had a great run.'"
In addition to her husband, Dr. McDaniel is survived by her children, Lorrie Clendenin of Bethesda and Michael McDaniel of Baltimore; a brother, Robert Garb of San Rafael, Calif.; two sisters, Susan Jaworowski of Avon, Ohio, and Connie Gale of Jerome, Mich.; and three grandchildren.
The family expects to hold a celebration of life ceremony on a date to be determined. Donations may be made to the Dr. Ellen McDaniel Scholarship Fund at the Baltimore Lab School, 2220 St. Paul St., Baltimore 21218.
twitter.com/jsmithhopkinsCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun