Dr. Harold Wolff, 80, was noted psychiatrist

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Dr. Harold Wolff, a highly regarded psychiatrist known for caring deeply about his patients and for having helped prepare astronauts for space flight duty, died Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011 at de Greeff Hospice House at St. Anthony’s Medical Center in south St. Louis County. He was 80 and had been battling lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease, family members said. He had been a longtime resident of University City.

Dr. Wolff was known locally for having prescribed lithium during the 1960s, many years before it became widely accepted as an effective treatment for manic depression or bipolar disorder. He went through great lengths to have the drug shipped from Canada to local pharmacies.

Dr. Wolff’s father from Russia and mother from Romania came to St. Louis where they operated a tailor shop for many years.

Dr. Wolff graduated first in his class from the old Blewett High School in 1948. He graduated from Washington University and from the University of Iowa College of Medicine.

He served in the U.S. Air Force. Among his duties was preparing psychological profiles for candidates for participation in the early U.S. space program, including some who joined the breakthrough Apollo program. He also researched the effects of long-term periods in space by astronauts.

When he returned to St. Louis, he took on a large number of private patients while he taught at Washington University School of Medicine. He was known and admired for taking on difficult cases, which other psychiatrists and physicians had deemed hopeless.

Dr. Wolff donated his body to Washington University School of Medicine for research into Parkinson’s disease. The family held a private gathering last Tuesday.

Among the survivors are his wife, Beverly Wolff, of University City; a daughter, Cynthia Gilman, of Alexandria, Va.; a son, Gary Wolff, of Kissimmee, Fla.; two stepsons, Benjamin Ronnau, of House Springs and Corydon Ronnau, of Oakland, Calif.; a stepdaughter, OIivia Ronnau, of Los Angeles; a brother, Richard Wolff, of University City; a sister, Harriett Schwartz, of Creve Coeur and three granddaughters.