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Dr. Sherrill A. "Ted" ConnaApril 20, 2016
Dr. Sherrill A. “Ted” Conna, 85
Child Psychiatrist and Social Activist
WORCESTER -- Dr. Sherrill A. “Ted” Conna, 85, of Westborough, died on Wednesday, April 20, 2016 at the Notre Dame Long Term Care Center. Ted died three weeks after a fall that fractured his pelvis, after some years of gradual decline due to Alzheimer’s disease. Prior to his fall, Ted had lived at Notre Dame du Lac Assisted Living since 2013.
Ted was born in New York City in 1931, the son of Leon J. (1902-1988) and Dorothy (Porges) Conna (1905-1968), and grew up in Yonkers, New York. His father and grandfather were professional musicians, and he studied music and began playing the violin at an early age. He had a lifelong love of classical music and became a talented pianist.
He attended Wesleyan and McGill Universities, and graduated from Duke University in 1955 with a degree in psychology. He then served three years as an officer in the U.S. Navy, followed by medical school and residency, also at Duke University. He and his wife loved the natural beauty and milder weather of North Carolina, but moved their young family to Westborough in 1968 so that Ted could continue his career in mental health in the Worcester area.
Dr. Conna became a board-certified child psychiatrist, and worked for many years at the Worcester Youth Guidance Center, serving as Director of Clinical Services. He also established a private psychotherapy practice with several colleagues at 48 Cedar Street in Worcester. Over the course of his career, he served as consulting psychiatrist for the Westborough, Holliston, Shrewsbury, and Mansfield public school systems, the Lyman School, Children’s Friend, the Advent Program, the Worcester Pastoral Counseling Center, at mental health clinics in Rhode Island and Vermont, and as a teaching consultant at St. Vincent’s Hospital.
Ted was a strong proponent of “talk” psychotherapy, and as psychiatry moved increasingly toward drug treatments, it became a personal mission for him to help keep the tradition of talk therapy alive within the medical profession. In 1975 he was the first child psychiatrist to join the faculty of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he was Assistant Professor of Psychiatry. He continued to teach, supervise residents, and attend grand rounds until his retirement in 2009, after 47 years in practice.
Ted loved to teach, and took great pleasure in both philosophical and psychological inquiry. He was an avid reader, and was fascinated with cosmology, space exploration, natural history, and studies inferring human pre-history from the human genome. He found inspiration in the work and writings of Helen and Scott Nearing, Carl Sagan, Wendell Berry, Noam Chomsky, and Lester Brown. As friends respond to news of his death, they speak of his intellect and curiosity, his wit and wisdom, his moral principle, his gentle presence, his compassion and empathy, his ability to meet people where they are, and his ever-inquiring and challenging mind.
Ted was also a longtime social activist. For nearly three decades, beginning in 1981, he worked to promote public awareness of nuclear disarmament, peace, and health care issues. He helped found the Central Mass. chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility and was its co-chair for many years. He also worked with Physicians for a National Health Program to promote a single-payer system of universal health care. He served on the boards of the Northeast Organic Farming Association Massachusetts Chapter and the Underground Railway Theatre.
Ted was a thinker, and he believed that through self-reflection, better communication and more conscious awareness, people could create healthier personal lives as well as more peaceful, fair, tolerant, and sustainable communities. This was the vision that inspired both his professional and his activist work.
Once, when asked by his son if he loved humanity, Ted said that he had a great love of human potential, but he was disappointed with what many have chosen to do with it. He was particularly offended by political and commercial propaganda, and it pained him that the same knowledge of human psychology that he used to help people lead happier, more conscious and fulfilled lives could also be abused by power brokers and advertisers to manipulate and oppress people by taking advantage of their fears and insecurities. Late in life he spoke of wanting to organize mental health professionals to combat the insidious effects of all forms of propaganda, through public education to expose how destructive it is to both people and the planet, and how it deprives people of conscious choice. Of his unfinished work, this may have been what mattered most to him.
From an early age, Ted loved boating on the Hudson River, and later water-skiing and sailing. He was a skilled mechanic and craftsman who built some of his own furniture and fixed his own cars. He enjoyed flower gardening, and his love of nature and the outdoors led to many camping and hiking trips with his family. He enjoyed travel, and probably wished he had done more of it.
Later in life he kept in shape by frequent walking, and even when his cognitive ability began to fail, he was still up for a good walk now and then. He struggled with the slow loss of his memory and his lifelong self-reliance, but he never lost his sense of humor, and he remained perceptive to the end. When he could no longer walk, it was merciful that death returned to him the independence and freedom he had wanted for years to regain.
Ted is survived by his wife of 61 years, Mary Lou (Kolbe) Conna of Westborough, his sons Ted D. Conna of Worcester, David Conna of Stow, Edward Conna of Kegel Canyon, California, and his daughter M. Sherilyn McKay, son-in-law Donald McKay, and grandson Alexander McKay, all of Montague. His older brother Leon C. Conna died in 2012.
Consistent with his wishes, Ted’s remains were donated for use in research on Alzheimer’s disease. A memorial celebration ofTed’s life will be held starting at 6pm on Thursday, May 26 at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, 11 French Drive, Boylston Mass.
Graham, Putnam, and Mahoney Funeral Parlors is assisting with arrangements. Those who wish may share memories and condolences at gpmfunerals.com
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Ted’s honor to the following organizations:
Cure Alzheimer’s Fund www.curealz.org
Northeast Organic Farming Association, Mass. Chapter www.nofamass.org
Physicians for a National Health Program www.pnhp.org
Physicians for Social Responsibility www.psr.org
Worldwatch Institute www.worldwatch.org