Dr. Patricia A. Newton, an internationally recognized African American psychiatrist, behavioral medicine specialist and author, who was also known as Nana Akosua Akyaa as a traditional Ghanaian royal, died Sept. 28 of undetermined causes at her Winthrop House residence in Guilford. She was 75.
“Dr. Newton was certainly a spectacular clinician, educator and researcher who championed issues and awareness regarding mental health of people of African American descent,” said Dr. Altha J. Stewart, a psychiatrist, who is an associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, Tennessee.
“She was a giant who had attained international prestige. She was one of those people in common parlance who was a Renaissance person and she certainly epitomized that,” said Dr. Stewart, a close friend of 40 years. “She had amassed friends from the entertainment world, sports figures, and had a thriving private practice. There were so many sides to Dr. Patricia Newton.
“She was an exceedingly friendly person who never met a stranger. She epitomized that expression, and left you feeling better than when you met her. She had a strong and positive outlook on life.”
Hunter H. Adams III, a cultural neuroscience researcher, educational consultant and writer, was also a longtime friend of Dr. Newton’s.
“As a person, Dr. Newton was an absolutely brilliant psychiatrist and a leader in the mental health field. She was a psychiatrist’s psychiatrist,” said Professor Adams, a Chicago resident.
“She wore many hats, and as an international meeting planner she organized conferences that brought together people from China, Africa, the U.S., Europe and South America,” he said. “She was an extremely generous person who would go out of her way to help people professionally. She'd write recommendations and helped me get into graduate school at the University College of London.”
Patricia Ann Newton, daughter of Dr. McKinley Newton, an educator, and his wife, Bernice Newton, a homemaker, was born and raised in Tuckerman, Arkansas.
Her interest in a career in medicine came early. “I knew when I was 8 that I wanted to go into medicine. they gave me a nurse’s cap, but I didn’t want that,” Dr. Newton explained in an interview. “I wanted a black bag with a stethoscope in it.”
A gifted student, she was 15 when she graduated from Tuckerman High School, and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1967 in pre-med from the University of Arkansas in Pine Bluff. She was a magna cum laude graduate of the George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University where she obtained a master’s degree in molecular biology.
While in school, she worked as a microbiologist for the state of Tennessee and after receiving her medical degree, became a resident in psychiatry, even though she originally planned to become a surgeon. While doing a surgical residency in Mexico City, two colleagues who were mentoring her, steered her into the field of psychiatry.
She also attended medical school at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where she completed her psychiatric training.
Dr. Newton then came to Baltimore, where she earned a second master’s degree in public health from what is now the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
In 1977, she joined the staff of the old Provident Hospital, where she was the first female chairperson of the department of psychiatry and pioneered programs for the rehabilitation of the chronically mentally ill. She also spearheaded the hospital’s sponsorship together with the National Institute of Mental Health and the first Baltimore International Congress of Transcultural Psychiatry, which brought more than 600 participants and scientists from around the world.
She entered private practice in 1983, founding and becoming president and medical director of Newton & Associates, and president of Newton-Thoth Inc., an international behavioral science and management consulting firm.
According to a biographical profile, her clinical psychiatry was focused on “anxiety disorders with special emphasis on PTSD, depression, chronic mental illness, and transcultural psychiatry encompassing the interface of western and Traditional African healing systems.”
She was still working at her death, family members said.
Dr. Newton left Provident in 1985 to pursue other professional interests, serving as president and medical director of Behavioral Medicine Associates Inc. in Baltimore, where she also was editor of the organization’s health information and educational service, and was an assistant professor of psychiatry for more than 16 years at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
She was the founder in 1969 of Black Psychiatrists of America whose mission, according to the profile, was to “create resources for psychiatrists who recognize that European psychiatry training is inadequate to address the healing that Black people throughout the Diaspora need. she grew that organization into an international organization.”
Said Dr. Stewart: “She worked really hard to increase the number of Black people getting into the pipeline to become psychiatrists.”
She also strongly believed as an African-centered psychiatrist, that psychiatry and psychology play pivotal roles in the environment and chemical origins of trauma in Black people.
Dr. Newton had served as Black Psychiatrists of America’s president and CEO, and had been medical director of its Council of Elders.
“One of her signature accomplishments was her biannual mental health Status of Black America Capitol Hill Forum that was convened by the Black Psychiatrists of America with the late Congressman Elijah Cummings in Washington,” said Professor Adams, who with Dr. Newton were founders of the Royal Circle Foundation, which fosters and promotes educational, cultural and health exchanges to disadvantaged groups.
At her death, Dr. Newton and Professor Adams had been working with the American Association of Public Health Physicians on an initiative, Racism as a Public Health Crisis. The organization plans to honor Dr. Newton at its general membership meeting Sunday.
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Proud of her African heritage, Dr. Newton in her work integrated African spirituality as a component of Black mental health. She was also enstooled as both a queen mother, female king and divisional chief in Ghana, West Africa, where she was given the traditional name of Nana Dr. Akosua Akyaa, which made her an official Ashanti royal in the kingdom of Agogo.
Her work earned her many awards and citations through the years, including Essence magazine’s Woman of the Year in Health and Medicine in 1985, one of Baltimore magazine’s 100 Most Influential Women in Baltimore, and one of Towson University’s Distinguished Black Marylanders.
Dr. Newton’s book, “Drama of the Trauma: Mitigating Historical Epigenetic Effects of Racism," will be published next year.
“This is an important book and based on 5,000 clinical studies that she conducted herself over 35 to 40 years,” Professor Adams said.
A memorial service will be held from noon to 2 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Joseph H. Brown Funeral Home, 2140 N . Fulton Ave., Baltimore.