Densen-Gerber, Judianne, 1934-2003.
Dr. Judianne Densen-Gerber, Who Founded Odyssey House Group Drug Program, Dies at 68
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
New York Times, May 14, 2003
Dr. Judianne Densen-Gerber, a lawyer and psychiatrist who founded the drug treatment program Odyssey House and went on to give widely quoted but sometimes disputed testimony on subjects like child abuse and pornography, died on Sunday in Manhattan. She was 68.
The cause was cancer, said her daughter Dr. Sarah Baden, who added that her mother lived in Westport, Conn., and had come to New York for Mother's Day.
In 1966, Dr. Densen-Gerber founded Odyssey House, one of the earlier drug-free therapeutic communities that helped addicts recover. She was a leading advocate of such programs, which involved group residence and group therapy, as opposed to methadone-maintenance programs.
She got to know Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller when she picketed in front of his house to demand funds for her program, and they became friends. In the 1970's she became a conspicuous figure at public hearings, society balls and ghetto demonstrations with her bouffant hairdo, rhinestone-studded glasses and cigars.
A 1979 profile in New York magazine quoted Mayor Edward I. Koch as saying that she was "one of those seminal forces, original, a go-getter." He said there were "few people who can claim as many accomplishments."
Dr. Densen-Gerber's success at getting government help became her downfall when the state investigated her use of public funds in the early 1980's and found irregularities. She resigned as executive director of Odyssey House in 1983, but remained active in affiliated programs.
Her influence extended to areas like child pornography. In 1977, her testimony that there were 264 monthly publications devoted to the subject helped persuade the House of Representatives to unanimously pass a bill to regulate it.
IPT, the publication of the Institute for Psychological Therapy, reported in 1992 that later government investigations proved her estimates to be exaggerated by "several orders of magnitude."
Dr. Densen-Gerber also commented on many other hot issues from a psychiatric point of view.
In 1991, she went to Omaha to testify in court that her interview with a man convinced her he had witnessed four satanic ritual killings. She characterized herself as an expert at deprogramming survivors of satanic cults.
In 1997, she appeared on Geraldo Rivera's television program to analyze a videotape of JonBenet Ramsey in a children's beauty contest.
Her unorthodox approach extended to her psychiatric practice. In 1999, she agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a civil lawsuit over her inability to account for 1,270 vials of medicinal cocaine. She denied any violation of the law.
She was born in Manhattan on Nov. 13, 1934. Her mother, Beatrice Densen, who had kept her own name, was an heiress of the Densen paper-box fortune. Her father, Gustave Gerber, a chemical engineer, became a lawyer in his 40's and was considering studying medicine in his 60's.
Dr. Densen-Gerber's parents persuaded her to study law before supporting her through medical school. She graduated from Columbia Law School and New York University Medical School. She did her residency at Metropolitan Hospital, where during one of her pregnancies, the director suggested she spend an hour or two a day working with addicts. That led to her assembling, in 1966, a group of addicts who wanted to cure themselves without using drugs. Before she found a home for them, they slept in 11 temporary shelters, giving rise to the name Odyssey.
Her original capital was $3.82, and dinner was often rice and spaghetti. Her first permanent building, on East 109th Street, was rented for $17 a month. There were 17 residents.
Within four years, other Odyssey Houses had started to spring up in other cities. In New York, Dr. Densen-Gerber reached out to new populations like prostitutes and addicted mothers.
Her own celebrity grew, and in 1981 The New York Times noted her costume at the April in Paris Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria. She wore a leather lionlike mask and a lionlike coiffure.
By the next year, Dr. Densen-Gerber faced stiff challenges. She agreed to pay back $20,000 in excessive personal expenses to close a state investigation. News reports suggested she had become intoxicated with her own power.
"I remember her grandly lying back and being grande dame to all the peons who were lying around," Nancy Hoving, a former member of Odyssey's advisory council, said in a New York magazine interview.
In 1997, her marriage to Michael Baden, who had been the city's medical examiner and a top forensic official for the state police, burned out in a flurry of lawsuits and spectacular accusations.
The marriage's beginning had also been unusual. Mr. Baden said in an interview with The Daily News in 1989 that he took her to an autopsy on their first date and proposed by phone while assisting in the post-mortem on the bullet-riddled body of the mobster Albert Anastasia.
In addition to her daughter Sarah, Dr. Densen-Gerber is survived by another daughter, Trissa Baden of Hopewell, N.J.; a son, Lindsey, of Brookline, Mass.; and two grandchildren.