Paul J. Fink, 81, psychiatry professor at local universities.

Posted: June 10, 2014

DR. PAUL J. FINK admitted to feeling a bit uneasy.

There he was with 100 community leaders at an anti-crime summit in Graterford prison, sitting across from 100 inmates who were unlikely ever again to see the light of freedom.

To get to the chapel, where the meeting was held, Fink and his group had to follow guards through the many clanging gates and locks that served as a stark reminder of what it must be like to be shut away for life.

But to Dr. Fink's relief and satisfaction, the inmates were just as eager as the community leaders to find answers to what was happening to young people outside in the violent streets.

"At one point during the workshop, I said that many of the adolescents who get into trouble have never been praised, never been hugged and never known love," Fink wrote in an article for the Inquirer in 2003.

"One of the lifers looked at me and said, 'That was me.' "

Paul Jay Fink, a highly respected psychiatrist, leader in national psychiatric organizations, a professor who trained many of the region's psychiatrists and a physician with a special interest in helping troubled young people, died Wednesday of complications of a stroke. He was 81 and lived in Center City. He previously lived in Merion.

"I found the summit to be very inspirational," Fink wrote about the meeting at Graterford, "and I came home with a sense of awe that people could still be in their right minds and so highly motivated to help others after so many years of incarceration.

"The lifers support one another and are finding a sense of pride and accomplishment from their concerted effort to enter the lives of delinquent youths who are on the same downward spiral the lifers themselves were on."

Maybe no magic formulas for preventing youth violence have been found, but Fink and other interested community leaders kept trying.

Paul Fink's emphasis was always on prevention. He spent years studying the causes of violence and concluded that early childhood abuse or neglect could plant the seeds of future violent behavior.

He was chairman of the Youth Homicide Committee, formed in 1993 to look into ways of preventing children's deaths by violence.

He put together a list of rules that a parent should know in caring for a child. He called it the "Parent Recipe for the Development of a Caring Nonviolent Adult."

One of the rules states: "Children learn to obey and produce best when they feel loved, when they are made to feel proud of what they do and when they are guided with warmth and joy."

In the late '90s, Fink developed a "rapid-response team" of psychiatrists and community volunteers that would rush to the scene of a violent crime - not to help the victims, but to counsel a child who might have seen the violent act.

The teams, which would be called in by police, would give special attention to children who might otherwise be ignored or missed in the blood and trauma of a crime scene. The children would be counseled and referred to appropriate agencies if needed.

Fink cited a 7-year-old boy who saw his two sisters slain in a Philadelphia apartment. "We were chagrined and distressed to find that no one had done anything to assess this child - not the school, not the church, not the Department of Human Services or any of the agencies which might have been appropriate, but for which there was no organized way to create a referral."

He called the child the "lost boy," and it deeply affected him. There are kids every day who see violence "and nobody pays attention, and we end up with a lot of these kids in the morgue 10 years later, or in jail as shooters," he said.

These are among the concerns that marked Paul J. Fink's career, and which he struggled to address.

"He had a real talent for getting things done," said his son David Fink. "He was high-energy, gregarious, outspoken, but an inclusive guy. He built organizations and coalitions. He had a sense of limitless possibilities."

Paul Fink was born in Philadelphia to John and Essie Fink. He graduated from Central High School and went on to Temple University, where he graduated magna cum laude in biology. He received his medical degree in 1958. He completed his internship and residency in psychiatry at the Albert Einstein Medical Center and completed training in psychoanalysis at the Institute of the Philadelphia Association for Psychoanalysis, in 1966.

He became a professor of psychiatry at Temple and was past president of the American Psychiatric Association, the American College of Psychiatrists and the National Association for Psychiatric Healthcare Systems and the American Association of Chairmen of Departments of Psychiatry.

Fink was chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Eastern Virginia Medical School from 1972 to 1976, and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Thomas Jefferson University from 1976 to 1984.

He also served as chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Albert Einstein Medical Center and the Belmont Center for Comprehensive Treatment.

"He was a presence," his son said. "He could fill up a room."

Besides his son, he is survived by his wife, Phyllis; two other sons, Mark and Gary; and eight grandchildren. He was predeceased by his first wife, Shirley Fink.

Services: Memorial service 1 p.m. June 16 at the College of Physicians, 19 S. 22nd St.

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