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Bruce C. Leopold, Sheppard Pratt psychiatrist, dies

Dr. Bruce Carl Leopold was a retired <runtime:topic id="ORGHC0000036">Sheppard Pratt</runtime:topic> psychiatrist.
Dr. Bruce Carl Leopold was a retired Sheppard Pratt psychiatrist. (HANDOUT)

Dr. Bruce Carl Leopold, a retired Sheppard Pratt psychiatrist, died of cancer Dec. 29 at his Ruxton home. He was 72.

Born in Los Angeles and raised in Bethesda, he was the son of Luna Bergere Leopold, a geomorphologist and hydrologist who studied streams for the federal government. His mother was Carolyn Clugston, a high school librarian who was the author of a work on collecting children's books.

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His father's family was Spanish and were early New Mexico settlers. Three counties — Luna, Catron and Otero — are named for Leopold family members.

Dr. Leopold spent his childhood summers at a home that is now part of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M.

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As a young man he accompanied his father and a family friend, Johns Hopkins geologist Reds Wolman, on trips throughout Wyoming. Dr. Leopold gained a reputation for being able to start a campfire with one match. Dr. Wolman dubbed him "the one-match guy."

He was a graduate of St. Alban's School in Washington. He earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy at Amherst College, where he was named to Phi Beta Kappa. He was also a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where was a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha honor society.

He came to Baltimore as a resident in psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He joined the staff of the Sheppard Pratt Hospital in summer 1976.

He was a senior psychiatrist, service chief and program director. He was working in the psychotic disorders unit at the time of his retirement in 2007.

Friends recalled him as a Renaissance man who wore a bow tie.

"He was an extraordinary psychiatrist and a stellar clinician and teacher," said Steven Sharfstein, a psychiatrist and friend who is a former president of Sheppard Pratt Health System. "He was funny and sarcastic, and you would have a good time — and a challenging time, too — when you were with him.

"He was probing. He approached the work with such an intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm," said Dr. Sharfstein. "Bruce could be skeptical, and he loved psychiatry because of its intellectual challenges. He taught generations of residents in psychiatry.

"He was beloved by his patients because he took such an interest in them," he said. "When he retired, they said, 'What are we going to do?'"

Dr. John Boronow, a fellow psychiatrist and friend, said: "Bruce was quite unique in his ability to get your life story. He could find the critical highlights, and lows, in your life."

He recalled how Dr. Leopold once ran a community mental health clinic in Cockeysville.

"He would let patients make their own decisions," Dr. Boronow said. "He conducted conversations with his patients to help them make good decisions about themselves. ... He engaged his patients to think about what was relevant to their lives to understand their current situation."

Dr. Paul McHugh, retired Johns Hopkins psychiatrist-in-chief, called Dr. Leopold "intelligent and gracious."

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"It was always pleasing to talk with Bruce," he said. "His breadth of reading always made him well informed."

His wife, Nikia "Niki" Clark Leopold, said her husband was brought up with a strong environmental ethic. His grandfather, Aldo Leopold, was a pioneering conservationist who wrote "A Sand County Almanac," an early environmental account.

"Bruce was an intellectual, curious and informed," she said. "He had certain idiosyncrasies. Though he followed the latest developments in science, particularly physics, he steered clear of any type of computer. His correspondence was handwritten.

"He collected stamps from childhood and decorated his letters with them, placed to his taste, delighting his friends and dismaying the Ruxton postmaster," she said.

She said he built variations on Hopi kachinas, wooden idols inspired by his paternal family's deep roots in Santa Fe.

"They set quite a tone and are evocative of the Southwest and of a certain kind of mood," she said of the idols he made for his garden. "They have some sort of a strong feeling inside them that compelled the viewer to muse over them."

He was a passionate gardener.

"His garden was family to him. Since retirement, he spent mornings there, tending to the koi pond and rock garden, pruning eglantine [a rich-scented rose] and cursing the bindweed," she said. "He collected seeds on his travels. A chestnut brought back from a small Italian town is now an enormous tree."

For decades, he and his wife hosted an Easter egg hunt for family and friends. At times they hid 30 dozen eggs.

He was an athlete and completed seven marathons in New York and Baltimore. He also enjoyed cycling in the country with friends.

His wife described him as a cat person who read the sports section after breakfast with Loki, a caramel Norwegian close to his heart.

She said he listened to jazz and the blues. When younger, he scouted Fells Point bars. He sponsored a CD of The Jumpstreet Trio, whose members perform at the Prime Rib.

A life celebration will be held in the spring. No date has been set.

Survivors include his wife of 48 years, a writer of poetry and children's books; a sister, Madelyn Leopold of Madison, Wis.; and a niece, Clare Kazanski of Minneapolis.

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