John Talbott

John A. Talbott, psychiatry chair at the University of Maryland and food blogger, dies

University of Maryland psychiatrist spent vacations in Paris and wrote reviews of restaurants


John A. Talbott, the University of Maryland’s department of psychiatry chair who was also a Parisian food blogger, died of a cardiac condition Nov. 29 at his Tuscany-Canterbury home. He was 88.

Dr. Talbott had been a professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland since 1985 and had earlier taught at Columbia, Cornell and New York universities.

Born in Boston, he was the son of Dr. John H. Talbott, a former Journal of the American Medical Association editor, and Mildred Cherry, a nurse.

He attended the Nichols School in Buffalo and earned a degree at Harvard College, where he was a Harvard Lampoon staff member. He received a medical degree at what was then Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and was yearbook editor.

While living in New York, he met his future wife, Susan Webster, at the Metropolitan Opera House. They were in line for standing room places at the performance.

He trained at the Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, the old Presbyterian Hospital-New York State Psychiatric Institute and the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research.

Dr. Talbott served as an Army captain in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. While there, his base was overrun during the Tet Offensive.

“While in Vietnam he saw many puzzling cases of soldiers who became psychotic after smoking what they thought was pure marijuana,” his wife said. “He and several reporters who were familiar with the effects of smoking marijuana in the U.S. were suspicious and he sent a sample to be analyzed to his father, then editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, which culminated in his being threatened with a court martial.”

“The Army reconsidered the court marshal and awarded him a Bronze Star,” his wife said.

He became an advocate for Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress symptoms.

He participated in Vietnam Vets Against the War and was its press spokesman at the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention, which he attended.

He participated with a group of veterans, mental health professionals and others in a project assessing combat veterans, non-combat veterans and resisters/objectors that became the “Legacies of Vietnam” report.

In 1978 he published “The Death of the Asylum: A Critical Study of the State Hospital” that railed against putting patients onto the streets.

“This great plan to provide community based care to mentally ill people was not funded well,” said his wife of the aftereffects of the asylum closures.

Dr. Talbott moved to Baltimore in 1985 when he was named chair of the University of Maryland’s department of psychiatry.

Dr. Talbott wrote more than 200 books, chapters and articles that focused on the care of the mentally ill, mental health services and mental illness in disadvantaged populations.

He wrote about the homeless, Vietnam War veterans and people who abused drugs and alcohol.

Dr. Talbott’s work that focused attention on the poor care rendered to the chronic mentally ill earned him awards from the American Psychiatric Association, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the Mental Health Association of Manhattan and the Bronx.

He was a past president of the American Psychiatric Association, among other professional organizations.

He also was editor in chief of Psychiatric Quarterly, Psychiatric Services and the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease.

In 2000 he stepped down as the psychiatry chair and worked on a University of Maryland initiative to bring more compassion to interactions between doctors and patients.

Dr. Talbott was also a French food critic. He began visiting France in 1953 as part of the cross-cultural Experiment in International Living. He enjoyed travel throughout the country and owned a small apartment in Paris, where he and his wife spent vacations and two sabbaticals.

“We lived north of Montmartre, down the hill, on a market street, Rue du Poteau, where there were once three horse meat shops,” said his wife. “Our favorite cuisine was French but that didn’t mean we didn’t love other cuisines as well.”

Around 1985 he began writing about restaurants in a self-published guide distributed by mail and in 2000 wrote for eGullet, Bonjour Paris and Chowhound.

In 2006 he began his own blog, John Talbott’s Paris. He chronicled his daily lunchtime restaurant meals and helped gain recognition for young chefs.

Survivors include his wife of 62 years, Susan Webster Talbott, a psychiatric and public health nurse; two daughters, Sieglinde Talbott Peterson, of Greenbelt, and Alexandra Talbott Morrel, of Baltimore; a sister, Cherry Talbott, of Austin, Texas; and six grandchildren..