Dr. Walter Weintraub, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland Medical School who pioneered research and analysis of speech patterns to help reveal an individual’s state of mind, died March 12 in his sleep at his Oak Crest Village home in Parkville. He was 92.
Dr. Walter Weintraub “made important contributions in his commitment to education in several areas of mental illness,” said Dr. Anthony F. Lehman, former department chair of the psychiatry department at the University of Maryland and a faculty colleague.
Dr. Brian M. Hepburn, director of the National Association of State Mental Health Programs and former executive director of the state Behavioral Health Administration, called Dr. Weintraub “a visionary.”
“He was a great role model for so many of us,” said Dr. Hepburn, a Columbia resident who was a resident at the University of Maryland when Dr. Weintraub was the resident training director. “He always provided for us, and was an excellent teacher that you wanted to emulate.
“He wanted us to improve the quality of life for those who suffered from severe mental illness,” he said. “I’ve known him for 40 years, and he was loved by many people.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Walter Weintraub was the son of Benjamin Weintraub, an egg salesman, and Anna Weintraub, a homemaker.
After graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School, he served in the Aleutian Islands as an Army radio operator from 1944 to 1946. He was discharged with the rank of sergeant.
He received a bachelor’s degree in 1948 from New York University, then obtained a medical degree in psychiatry in 1953 from the University of Geneva in Switzerland. He was a 1961 graduate of the Baltimore Washington Psychoanalytic Institute, now the Washington Baltimore Center for Psychoanalysis in Laurel.
From 1956 to 1957 he was a resident in psychiatry at Perry Point Veterans Affairs Hospital. After his residency he joined the psychiatry department at the University of Maryland. In 1968, he was named professor of psychiatry and served more than 30 years at the University of Maryland Medical School.
Dr. Weintraub earned regional, national and international recognition for his innovations in psychiatric education and development of new systems of care for the mentally ill, particularly the poor and disadvantaged. His research resulted in the development of new methods of diagnosis and clinical interventions.
He was a prolific contributor of research articles. One in particular, “The VIP Syndrome: A Clinical Study in Hospital Psychiatry,” detailed how medical treatment of famous or important people could be compromised when physicians tried to accommodate “inappropriate demands of their patients” because they happen to be famous.
The article was cited by The New York Times after the deaths of Michael Jackson and Joan Rivers, when “less than optimal treatment by their physicians were felt to be significant contributors to their demise,” family members said.
In 1970, Dr. Weintraub established the Combined Accelerated Program in Psychiatry — the only program of its kind in the United States — where a selected group of medical students immersed themselves in a range of psychiatric educational experiences beginning at the start of medical school.
“It was groundbreaking at the time,” Dr. Lehman said.
CAPP graduates went on to become local, regional and national leaders in research and administration.
The creation of the program led Dr. Weintraub being named psychiatry residency director in 1971. He held that position for two decades, during which time Maryland’s psychiatry residency program was recognized as among the best in the nation.
In 1976 he implemented what became known as the Maryland Plan, an academic-state collaboration whose goal was to improve psychiatric care for patients being treated at state mental hospitals.
“He succeeded in bringing all of the training programs under the University of Maryland to all, and did not want a two-tier system,” Dr. Hepburn said. “With the establishment of this program, it improved the quality of teaching and improved the health of the severely mentally ill in state hospitals.”
The Maryland Plan also influenced many psychiatrists to chose careers in this part of the public health sector.
“It resulted in getting residents involved with the severely mentally ill in state institutions, and many of Walter’s graduates of the Maryland Plan became leaders,” Dr. Lehman said. “CAPP and the Maryland Plan are tremendous legacies.”
Dr. Weintraub’s 1980 book, “Verbal Behavior: Adaption and Psychopathology,” was the result of his study of presidential press conferences going back to Dwight D. Eisenhower. The book offers insight into speech patterns, and how they can reveal the speaker’s mental health.
“What we found was that under anger or strong emotion, language tends to become more simple,” he told The Baltimore Sun in a 1982 article. “Basic words. Profanity tends to be basic and learned early in life. Everything becomes simple. The grammar becomes simple. Complicated sentence structure comes out. We call it regression, a going backwards. We don’t use fancy words.”
He said politicians are paralyzed by quiet — and that’s what makes press conferences unique.
“Silence makes people nervous. To fill the void they’ll say whatever comes into their heads,” he told The Sun.
He called President Eisenhower the most “spontaneous” of postwar presidents. “His remarks in press conferences were almost always unrehearsed.”
He described President Bill Clinton as a “mainstream speaker.”
“He is the most theatrical of all presidents in his use of such adverbial intensifiers as ‘really,’ ‘very,’ ‘so’ and ‘such.’ He also uses more ‘feeling words’ such as ‘I like,’ ‘I hate’ than most presidents,” he told The Sun in 1994.
Later in his career, Dr. Weintraub used this method to help federal intelligence officials analyze speech patterns of foreign leaders and suspected terrorists.
He retired in 1990.
The Morning Sun Newsletter
Get your morning news in your e-mail inbox. Get all the top news and sports from the baltimoresun.com.
He is survived by three sons, Dr. Eric Weintraub of Towson, Dr. Philippe Weintraub of Denver and Dr. Daniel Weintraub of Ardmore, Pa.; a daughter, Dr. Michele Weintraub of Sanibel island, Fla.; a brother, Robert Weintraub of New York City; and six grandchildren.