Beloved by family, patients and colleagues, Dr. Roger A. MacKinnon, professor emeritus at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, passed from this world peacefully in his home July 24, 2017, at the age of 90.
He was born in Attleboro, Mass., Feb. 13, 1927, to Dr. Irville H. MacKinnon and Helen Junk MacKinnon. He graduated from The Taft School in 1944 and attended Princeton University as a select member of the U.S. Navy’s V-12 program. He obtained his medical degree from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1950, completed his internship in internal medicine at Sparrow Hospital at Michigan State University in Lansing, Mich., and served his residency as a lieutenant at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in California.
Upon completion of his military service, he and his first wife, Florence Helen Lundgren, returned to northern New Jersey, where they raised two children and he combined teaching at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, department of psychiatry with a private psychoanalytic practice in Manhattan, the latter continuing until 2014.
Dr. MacKinnon was acknowledged by colleagues to be one of the most skilled clinicians of his era. His remarkable capacity to listen and observe enabled him to understand patients’ most painful emotions and distressing life experiences. His creative clinical approach generated powerful interventions and desirable outcomes — even in the most challenging cases. Frequently asked by colleagues to consult on cases where there was a therapeutic impasse, he generously offered his time and consistently made suggestions that helped therapists offer renewed hope to their patients.
One of Dr. MacKinnon’s greatest loves was teaching. His discussions in cases conferences were considered to be a tour de force. Many of our current generations’ most outstanding clinicians remember these conferences and recognize Dr. MacKinnon’s inspiration as a teacher and mentor. At Columbia University Dr. MacKinnon was honored by the graduating residents with the department’s first Teacher of the Year award, named in his honor in perpetuity.
Dr. MacKinnon’s father served as director of New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University, and Roger followed in his father’s footsteps in a number of administrative leadership roles — including director of the Vanderbilt Outpatient Clinic and Director of the Columbia Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. A member of the New York Psychiatric Society, he served as its president. He also led the residency training program and chaired the department of psychiatry for many years. He authored numerous seminal professional papers and co-authored two widely read textbooks. “The Psychiatric Interview in Clinical Practice,” recently published in its third edition, was widely translated and read by clinicians around the world.
While cognizant of the many important advances in biological psychiatry, Dr. MacKinnon staunchly defended the value of “talk therapy.” His comments were featured in a story in the Sunday New York Times magazine, where he was quoted as saying, “I tell the residents that if they don’t want to be replaced by a pill, they better learn something pills won’t be able to do for a long time. There will always be a need for the healing of the soul.” The article refers to Dr. MacKinnon as “John Wayne in a blue suit.”
In addition to his many professional accomplishments, he was a dedicated father and playful grandfather, master of both storytelling and listening. Dr. MacKinnon relished the opportunity to teach his grandchildren the art of crafting a perfect slingshot, discovering constellations, and exploring nature. He often enjoyed long walks while discussing the world around them. He instilled in them the patience required to complete tasks “the right way,” and his life lessons resonated deeply. At times, his grandchildren truly believed that he had super powers.
One of Dr. MacKinnon’s greatest pleasures was spending time at his summer residence in Southold, which he maintained for over 50 years. It was at that special spot where he enjoyed boating, fishing, wake-surfing and sailing. His other interests included woodworking and photography, which he did with perfection. He was also an active member of the Knickerbocker Country Club in Tenafly, N.J.
Dr. MacKinnon is survived by his daughter, Carol L. MacKinnon of Tacoma, Wash. (William Broadhead); his son, Stuart A. MacKinnon of Wellesley Hills, Mass. (Beth MacKinnon); four grandchildren, Elizabeth Broadhead, Sarah Broadhead, Kyle MacKinnon and Cameron MacKinnon; his wife, Cynthia D. MacKinnon of Brunswick, Maine; three adult stepchildren, Doug (Ann), David (Jen) and Melinda Porter, and many step-grandchildren; his sister, Marilyn Montague, a niece, Elisabeth Manning, and two nephews, James and Roger Montague and their children. Dr. MacKinnon is also survived by Nadine MacKinnon and her daughters. The family would like to thank Yanique Malcolm, his full-time care provider, for her dedicated assistance. Condolences may be left online at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Roger A. MacKinnon M.D. Scholarship Fund, Columbia University Psychoanalytic Center, 1051 Riverside Drive, P.O. Box 63, New York, NY 10032.
A memorial service is planned for October.
This is a paid notice.