Dr. Gordon Livingston, psychiatrist and author, dies

Dr. Livingston wrote on topics of death and grieving after two of his sons died in a 13-month period.

Dr. Gordon Stuart Livingston, a psychiatrist and author whose books focused on the human condition and issues of death, bereavement and forgiveness, died of heart failure March 16 at Howard County General Hospital.

The Columbia resident was 77.

Born in Memphis, Tenn. and raised in Troy, N.Y., he was the son of Stanton Livingston, an orthopedic surgeon and Veterans Administration hospital chief, and his wife, Bonnie Keegan.

A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, he became an infantry officer. He was trained as a paratrooper and an Army Ranger in the 82nd Airborne Division.

In 1967, he graduated from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Dr. Livingston spent his internship at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, then volunteered for service in Vietnam. He was regimental surgeon for the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment and was awarded the Bronze Star for "valor in recognition of acts of bravery."

Family members said that while in Vietnam he registered a public protest against the war during an Easter Sunday change-of-command ceremony. He soon left the Army.

Back home, he trained in adult and child psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He had been a part-time assistant professor at the school.

He moved to Columbia in 1972 and joined the Columbia Medical Plan, where he was chief of psychiatry. He was practicing part-time at Crossroads Psychological Associates in Columbia.

He began to write on topics of death and grieving after the deaths of two of his sons in a 13-month period. His oldest son ended his life, and his youngest son died of leukemia.

"Gordon was a deep-thinking man with an extraordinary gift for expressing thoughts and feelings that made a lasting impression on the lives of his readers," said his Washington-based literary agent, Raphael Sagalyn. "He was an incredibly kind and wonderful person. He talked the way he wrote. The matters of everyday life were matters he took personally."

In "Only Spring," he wrote about his 6-year-old son Lucas, who died in 1992.

"I lie with Lucas as he falls asleep, and I look at the remnants of his beautiful blond hair, now nearly gone from the chemotherapy. I feel his breath on my face and wonder at the fragility of our most precious earthly connections. At these times he asks me questions, some existential ('Can kids die from cancer?'), some theological ('Can God hold the sun in his hand?'), some ordinary ('What does a dogfish look like?')," he wrote. "I find myself trying to explain many things that I do not know for certain."

He established a memorial fund for families whose children are patients at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The fund pays for a family stay at a downtown Baltimore hotel and their transportation to the hospital.

In 2004, he wrote "Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart," a work dealing with human issues that has been translated into 22 languages.

Reviewers praised Dr. Livingston for his common-sense, practical approach. A staff reviewer for the Buffalo, N.Y. Public Library cited his "perfectly calibrated essays" and said that in Dr. Livingston's years as a psychiatrist, "he has listened to people talk about their lives and the limitless ways that they have found to be unhappy. ... Out of a lifetime of experience, Livingston has extracted thirty bedrock truths ... [including that] the statute of limitations has expired on most of our childhood traumas."

He was also author of "And Never Stop Dancing," "How to Love," and "The Thing You Think You Cannot Do." His wrote numerous essays for newspapers, including The Baltimore Sun.

Family members said Dr. Livingston enjoyed a challenge. He took up hang gliding, scuba diving and motorcycle riding. He also ran marathons, played golf and sailed and raced in the Baltimore harbor.

He also enjoyed felling trees with a chain saw and climber's tackle. He began on his own property and soon began taking on jobs for neighbors. He then established a business, the Columbia Tree Service, and was licensed and bonded. He also performed snow removal.

Plans for a summer memorial service are incomplete.

Survivors include his wife of 39 years, Clare Vickers King, a psychiatric social worker and former assistant director of the Johns Hopkins University Counseling Center; a son, Michael Chin Livingston of Madison, Conn.; three daughters, Kirsten Elizabeth Livingston of Guilford, Conn., Nina Stuart Livingston of Durham, Conn., and Emily King Livingston of Washington, D.C.; and three grandchildren. A son, Andrew Lowry Livingston, died in 1991. Another son, Lucas Scott Livingston, died in 1992.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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