SONIS: On Sunday, April 26, 2015, Meyer “Mike” Sonis, M.D., age 96, died peacefully at home. Mike had a distinguished career in academic child and adolescent psychiatry and was a beloved husband, father, uncle, grandfather (“Poppy”) and great-grandfather to be. Children were the focus of his life.
Throughout his career, he was a tireless advocate for access to mental health services for all children, regardless of ability to pay. He also had an extraordinary gift of being able to connect with children on their level. He delighted in children and they loved him. Advocacy and direct care for mentally ill children were the driving forces in his long career.
Born in poverty to immigrant parents, David and Esther, in Philadelphia on January 29, 1919, Mike excelled in school. To earn spending money, he wrote poems for greeting card companies and ghost wrote song lyrics in the 1930s. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) on a scholarship in 1939, completed post-baccalaureate work in 1941, and Hahnemann Medical College in 1944. He was a captain in the United States Army Medical Corps, 1945-1947. After completing neuropsychiatry residency and child psychiatry fellowship at Penn, he served on the faculty there from 1951 to 1961. In 1961, he became chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and director, Pittsburgh Child Guidance Clinic. During his career, he was president of the American Association of Psychiatric Services for Children and a founding member and president of the Society of Professors of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Mike served as chair or consultant to more than two dozen regional, statewide, national and international organizations and committees related to child mental health services. Toward the end of his career, he served as assistant vice president for health sciences at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He retired from Pitt as emeritus professor in 1987. Although retired, he remained active and vital until his death.
Mike served as a role model to many and was the patriarch of a large extended family. He loved classical music, writing, biblical archeology, liberal politics and useless gadgets. He was a Zionist and traveled to Israel many times. His humor and irreverence endeared him to those who worked with him as well as those who cared for him as he aged. Ms. Patricia Kennedy, his longtime assistant at Pitt, noted “I was never treated with more respect by anyone in my entire professional life.” His grandchildren adored him.
On April 23, 1945, he married the love of his life, Anne (“Annie”) Thelma Cohen. They were married until she died of complications from surgery in 1989. He is survived by his children (William and wife, Jo Ann; Marlene Marcus and husband, James; Jeffrey and wife, Mary); grandchildren (Lee; Lexie Sachs and husband, Andrew; Andrew; Will; and Julia) and sisters (Claire Shapiro and husband, Harry; Marilyn Feinberg and husband, Jerome). His sister Tillie preceded him in death.
He was deeply loved and will be sorely missed.
Services and interment were private in Philadelphia. A celebration of his life will be held at a later date in Pittsburgh. Donations may be made to Save the Children (savethechildren.org).
Arrangements entrusted to Ralph Schugar Chapel. schugar.com.