Pediatrics pioneer

Odette Taft and Gary Eddey, MD, Matheny vice president and chief medical officer.

Dr. Lawrence T. 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.

Dr. Taft founded the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of 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.

Dr. Taft’s widow, Odette Taft, remembers how much her husband “loved going to Matheny. 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, recalls that Dr. Taft, his mentor,  “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.”

When Dr. Cohen arrived at Einstein in 1964, Dr. Taft trained him in what became developmental pediatrics. “Larry,” he says, “was a good observer of children’s behavior and development and an excellent teacher. A number of the people he trained went into leadership positions in the field.”

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 his death — he was training the medical staff and me how to provide care for the patient population with complex disabilities.”

Odette Taft remembers 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.”