Remembering a Pediatrics Pioneer

Princeton resident Odette Taft remembers her husband Lawrence, a pioneer in the field of neurodevelopmental pediatrics..

Odette Taft, a resident of Princeton, remembers how much her late husband, Dr. Lawrence Taft, "loved going to Matheny." The Matheny Medical and Educational Center is a special hospital and educational facility in Peapack, NJ, for children and adults with medically complex developmental disabilities.

Dr. Taft was a member of the Matheny medical staff for 13 years before he died in 2008. At that time, Matheny changed the name of its annual Service Awards to the Lawrence T. Taft Awards, in honor of the man who helped establish the field of neurodevelopmental pediatrics. He founded the Children's Evaluation and Rehabiitation Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in the Bronx and was the first chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Robert Wood Johnson University Medical School where he established the Institute for the Study of Child Development. While at RWJUH, he developed a pediatrics department that reflected his philosophy and included a division of neonatology, in which high-risk births and prematurity were treated and studied. He also received the University Excellence Award "for demonstrating a high level of achievement and recognition by his peers for patient care."

While at Matheny, his wife Odette, recalls, "He loved working with the kids, and he loved the parents as well. He would always shake the child's hand. That way he felt they wouldn't be afraid of him. And he always made a point of telling the parents, 'You're doing a good job.' We'd get letters from families all the time"

Herbert J. Cohen, MD, professor emeritus at Albert Einstein's Department of Pediatrics, remembers that Dr. Taft "pushed for the team approach. He brought together a number of people from different departments for an interdisciplinary approach." That approach, adds Odette Taft, "is now an established, respected form of care."  Dr. Taft was Dr. Cohen's mentor. "When I came here in 1964, he trained me in what became developmental pediatrics. Larry was a good observer of children's behavior and development and an excellent teacher. He was clearly a leader in the field of developmental pediatrics. He really cared about what he was doing and helping children, and a number of people he trained went on to have leading positions in the field. He was a very good teacher and role model."

Dr. Taft was also a mentor to Gary Eddey, MD, vice president and chief medical officer at Matheny. Working with Dr. Taft, says Dr. Eddey, was "pure pleasure. Until the very end -- three months before he died -- he was training the medical staff and me how to provide care for the patient population with complex disabilities."

Odette Taft recalls a trip to China. "One of the Chinese doctors came over to him and said, I've read your papers.' We were in Greece, and a woman brought her child to see him. He was so gratified that people thought so highly of him."                                                                                                                                                                                    

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