Please visit our new site for up-to-date information and news.

Louis Jolyon West

Psychiatry & Biobehaviorial Sciences: Los Angeles


1999, University of California: In Memoriam

On January 2, 1999, Louis Jolyon “Jolly” West, the former chairman of the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, died of a rapidly advancing, malignant tumor.

Born in 1924 in Brooklyn, New York, of immigrant Russian-Jewish parents, he grew up in poverty in Madison, Wisconsin. Like many children of recent immigrants, he was bent on obtaining an education. Entering the University of Wisconsin at the age of 17, he determined to fight in World War II against fascism. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to the University of Iowa in the Army Specialized Training Program, and then to the University of Minnesota School of Medicine from which he graduated in 1948. After a year of internship in internal medicine, he served a three-year residency in psychiatry at the Payne Whitney Clinic of New York Hospital and Cornell University School of Medicine. In 1948 he had transferred to the U.S. Air Force Medical Corps, and in 1952 was appointed Chief of Psychiatry Service at the Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. While holding this position, he had also been appointed Professor and Head of the Department of Psychiatry, Neurology and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine–the youngest person ever to have held a chairmanship in psychiatry in the United States until, or since, that time. In 1969, he moved to UCLA to head its department and direct the Neuropsychiatry Institute.

Implicit in the foregoing are the outlines of an American success story–the poor immigrant son, who by dint of his intelligence and energy, makes the best of freedom and the opportunity offered to him to realize himself. What is not so usual in this familiar American story is that from an early age and throughout his life, West fought for the equal rights of others so that they might have similar opportunities for self-realization. Always larger than life, he was bold and courageous. He led the way toward the integration of medical fraternities, and the civil right changes in the South. He battled actively and ceaselessly for individual freedom and dignity, opposing prejudice, bias, bigotry, violence, torture, and the subjugation, punishment and mistreatment of others by governments, the judiciary, the military, kidnappers, cult, leaders, and phony prophets. He took the side of the poor, minorities, children, the disenfranchised, the mentally ill, the ignorant and the weak.

It should come as no surprise that his own clinical and research contributions focused on the effects of man’s inhumanity to man, of sleep deprivation, of mind-altering and hallucinogenic drugs. He studied the psychophysiology of hypnosis and suggestibility (including their effects on pain perception), meditation, and of the emotions. He published theories of dissociative reactions, hallucinations and dreams. And throughout his career he concerned himself with alcoholism and its treatment. Later he extensively studied the social phenomena of the 1960′s–the civil rights movement, the hippie culture and the green rebellion–and the pervasive violence in our society.

Through his interest in social pathologies, their origins and consequences, West extended the vista of psychiatry beyond its usual concerns. Following his retirement from the chairmanship of the department, he thought deeply and developed programs in the prevention of mental illness, addiction and crime.

His interests and his vision led him to create two departments–of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences–at the time when the two predominant underpinnings of American academic psychiatry were psychoanalytic concepts, or the treatment of the seriously mentally ill by lobotomy, metrazol or insulin injections, and ECT.

He defined the biobehavioral sciences in a multidisciplinary and multifunctional manner as the basic sciences of psychiatry, spanning the spectrum from epidemiology to cultural anthropology, to the study of primate behavior, pharmacology, neurochemistry, neuropsychology, psychophysiology, psychoendocrinology, psychoneuro-immunology, cognitive neurophysiology, neuroanatomy, and computer modeling of psychotherapy, and human brain development.

Jolly West served his country and his profession well. He was a consultant of the U.S. Air Force, the VA, the USIA, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Peace Corps, the NIMH, the Department of HHS, the AMA, the APA, the American Specialty Boards, and private foundations. He served on the editorial board of 12 publications and on many medical school committees.

He received many honors and awards, including an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Hebrew Union College. During his career, he gave numerous prestigious, endowed lectures, both here and abroad.

The egalitarian principles that guided Jolly West’s life were exercised in the way he ran his department. He had a fierce loyalty to it and its members, and to UCLA; he supported and promoted both. He ran the department with a light hand, encouraging and supporting his young colleagues, attracting many senior, distinguished colleagues, and allowing its members the optimal degree of freedom to pursue their interests.

He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Kathryn, a distinguished clinical psychologist; two daughters, Anne and Mary; and a son, John.

Herbert Weiner
Joe Yamamoto