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Marion Thomas Liebson, psychiatrist who focused on care of the elderly, dies

Marion Thomas Liebson
Marion Thomas Liebson (HANDOUT)

Marion Thomas Liebson, a retired psychiatrist who was on the staffs of Springfield and the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt hospitals, died of complications of Alzheimer's disease and cancer Oct. 8 at the Belmont Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Belmont, Mass. The former Riderwood resident was 87.

Born Marion G. Thomas in Croydon, England, she was the daughter of Dyfrig P. Thomas, a schoolteacher, and his wife, Margaret E. Jones, a pharmacist. When World War II broke out and Britain was being bombed, she lived with relatives in Mountain Ash, Wales, during the evacuation of children from cities.

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"Her evacuation from London did not guarantee safety," said her son, Michael Liebson of Cambridge, Mass. "Even in the coal-mining town of Mountain Ash, there were bombings, when German planes on their return from bombing runs of industrial sites would dump leftover bombs on the imperfectly blacked-out town of Mountain Ash. When the air raid sirens sounded, she and her relatives would hide in the space under the stairs. Flying glass from a night-time raid in the spring of 1941 partially blinded her grandmother."

Her son also said that she returned to London in 1942 when it was thought the bombing was mostly over, but it returned with new intensity in June 1944 when the Germans started launching V-1 flying bombs. "This forced her family to sleep in something called a Morrison shelter in the back yard," Mr.Liebson said. "Her father was part of the Home Guard and aimed spotlights at the sky and fired anti-aircraft guns at German planes."

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She earned a medical degree at Trinity College Dublin School of Medicine in Ireland in 1954. She then came to Baltimore and did a medical Internship at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She decided to pursue psychiatry and did a residency in that specialty. She completed her studies in psychiatry in 1962.

"She was an adventurous person and came to the U.S. She planned to stay for a year, but I was responsible for her staying. We married in 1958," said her husband, Dr. Ira Liebson, also a retired Johns Hopkins psychiatrist. He said he met his future wife when they were interns at Hopkins.

He said his wife was initially attracted to Hopkins because she had read a book, "The Cecil-Loeb Textbook of Medicine," that mentioned the hospital's work in medical research.

Michael Liebson said, "It was an attractive thing to go from Britain, which was still recovering from World War II, to Hopkins, one of the great centers of medicine."

Dr. Liebson, who was known to her patients and professionally as Dr. Marion Thomas, was named an assistant medical officer for the Baltimore City Circuit Court, then known as the Supreme Bench. She helped evaluate defendants who claimed insanity, among other duties.

She was also on the staff of the old Seton Psychiatric Institute in Northwest Baltimore and was later a psychiatrist at the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson. From the 1980s until her 1989 retirement she was chief of service in geriatrics at the Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville.

"She was a lovely person and a compassionate and skillful psychiatrist," said Dr. Bruce Hershfield, a colleague who headed the hospital. "I was pleased when she agreed to work with me at Springfield in the 1980s. She was particularly good at working with the elderly and she provided good leadership and care for that part of our patient population for some time, until she retired."

After her retirement Dr. Liebson was a consultant at a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine research project.

"She was among the first persons to take the psychiatric conditions of the elderly seriously," said Dr. Paul R. McHugh, who was the Johns Hopkins psychiatrist in chief from 1975 until 2001.

Dr. Liebson lived in Mount Washington on Ridgedale Road for many years. She later lived on Strauff Road in Riderwood before moving to Massachusetts in 2013 to be closer to her children.

Dr. Liebson read Irish and Welsh history and was an assistant on an archaeological dig in Ireland. She traveled to six continents and enjoyed visits to the USSR, where she studied Soviet psychiatric institutions, and to Cuba and India. She also worked in pottery and took courses in literature and history. She also studied the genealogy of her family.

"She had an energy and a curiosity about the world," said her son.

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Dr. Liebson was interested in the arts and attended performances at Peabody Conservatory of Music and vocal concerts at Levering Hall at Hopkins.

In addition to her husband of 59 years, and son, survivors include two daughters, Dr. Elizabeth Liebson of Cambridge, Mass., and Katherine Liebson Kraushaar of London, England; a brother, James Thomas of Herefordshire, England; and five grandchildren.

Plans for a memorial service in Baltimore are pending.

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