Dr. Michael D. Potash, a retired Mount Vernon psychiatrist whose career spanned five decades, died Friday of a heart attack at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 81.
"Mike Potash was one of our psychiatric supervisors when I came to Hopkins in 1975. He was very much sought after by the residents and was a deeply thoughtful man and had broad experience," said Dr. Paul R. McHugh, who was psychiatrist in chief at the hospital from 1975 until 2001.
"He was a quiet but excellent teacher and was very attuned to his patients' problems and needs," said Dr. McHugh, who lives in Guilford. "I thought that he was a wonderful colleague and always interested in the advancement of the department."
The son of Oscar Potash, a pharmacist, and Esther Potash, a University of Maryland, College Park English teacher, Michael Donald Potash was born and raised in Washington, where he graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School.
He earned a bachelor's degree in three years in 1954 at the University of Maryland, College Park, and a medical degree in psychiatry in 1958 from the University of Maryland Medical School.
"He had moved over to Baltimore and lived with his grandmother, Rebecca Mandel, who was the mother of Marvin Mandel, the future governor," said a son, Dr. James B. Potash, a psychiatrist who is professor and head of psychiatry at the University of Iowa.
"He lived on Ridgedale Road in Mount Washington with his grandparents," said his aunt, Barbara Oberfeld "Bootsie" Mandel, the former wife of Gov. Marvin Mandel and first lady of Maryland.
Dr. Potash completed an internship at the old Sinai Hospital at Broadway and Monument Street, and a residency in psychiatry from 1959 to 1962 at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
He maintained a private practice for 50 years in an office on St. Paul Street in the city's Mount Vernon neighborhood.
In addition to his own practice, he was a consultant to the city Police Department, for which he evaluated officers. He also taught resident psychiatrists at Hopkins for decades as a part-time faculty member.
"I first met him when I was a resident at Hopkins in the department of psychiatry. I was assigned to him and he was my supervisor," said Dr. Bruce T. Taylor, who succeeded his father, Dr. Irving J. Taylor, a psychiatrist, as medical director of the old Taylor Manor Hospital in Ellicott City in 1979.
"He was wonderful and was interested in the work that I'd be doing as a resident and wanted me to expand my horizons," said Dr. Taylor of Pikesville.
Mrs. Mandel, a Northwest Baltimore resident, said she had a close relationship with Dr. Potash. "He was an outstanding psychiatrist and an outstanding man. I was so happy he was my nephew."
In 1966, Dr. Potash and another psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen Karp, director of psychology at Sinai Hospital, examined how overweight people viewed themselves.
Dr. Potash arrived at the conclusion that overweight people often lack confidence, which results in overeating.
"We know that fat people are generally passive and unsure of themselves and it may be that they begin overeating to make up in physical size what they lack in confidence," he told The Baltimore Sun in a 1966 interview.
"The fatter they get, however, the less socially acceptable they are and the more restricted their lives become," he said. "This may result in a feeling of unworthiness and a tendency to misjudge body size and the amount of food they eat."
In 1970, he was appointed by Gov. Marvin Mandel to serve on his Advisory Council on Drug Abuse, and from 1974 to 1976, Dr. Potash chaired the Baltimore City Medical Society's legislative committee.
"He was a tremendous influence on me," said his son. "He had such a love for his work, which was so inspiring, and when I was a kid, he'd talk to me about cases, so this is why I went into the field."
In his eulogy, Jacob Potash, a sophomore at Yale University who lives in Iowa City, described his grandfather as "expressing himself in extremes."
"But even when he was declaring a worst, rather than a best, he didn't seem irritated, or cynical, or depressed. He seemed thrilled, to have had an experience, even as mundane as eating baked chicken, and then to be able to tell someone else about it," Mr. Potash said.
Dr. Potash surrendered his license in late 2009 to the Maryland Board of Physicians after a former female patient brought an accusation of "immoral and unprofessional conduct," according to documents filed with the board.
"The permanent surrender of my license to practice medicine in the State of Maryland will avoid prosecution of the disciplinary charges now pending before the Board," Dr. Potash wrote in a letter to the board, dated Nov. 12, 2009.
In the letter, Potash said he retired in March 2009 and wanted to avoid the time and expense of defending against the allegations.
In addition to his career, Dr. Potash maintained a strong interest in Democratic politics and in 1972 played a significant role in Democrat George McGovern's Maryland campaign, largely because of his strong anti-Vietnam War sentiment, family members said.
"His lifelong zeal for peacemaking was reflected in his very recent elation about President Obama's treaty with Iran," his son said.
He was a fan and supporter of Maryland football and basketball, which became "lifelong sources of joy," his son said. "With his typical exuberance, he proclaimed the 2002 victory of the Terrapins in the NCAA basketball tournament the happiest moment of his life."
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"He was an avid jock and played golf and tennis in his spare time. He was a member of the Suburban Club," said Mrs. Mandel.
The longtime Pikesville resident was a also a voracious reader. "It wasn't uncommon for him to be reading three or four books at one time," said Mrs. Mandel.
Services were held Sunday at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville.
In addition to his son and grandson, Dr. Potash is survived by another son, John L. Potash of Catonsville; two sisters, Sharon Weiss of Silver Spring and Lynn Linkin of Beverly Hills, Calif.; another grandson; and his companion of seven years, Rona Blankman Burkoff. A marriage to the former Vella Rosenthall ended in divorce.