Dr. Edward Leader helped thousands, taught for nearly half a century

Dr. Edward Leader, in the center, with his wife Mary Wool Leader. Dr. Leader was a noted Atlanta psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who also taught at the Emory University School of Medicine and worked with soldiers for Veterans Affairs.

Credit: courtesy of

Credit: courtesy of

Dr. Edward Leader, in the center, with his wife Mary Wool Leader. Dr. Leader was a noted Atlanta psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who also taught at the Emory University School of Medicine and worked with soldiers for Veterans Affairs.

Dr. Edward Leader used to tell resident psychiatrists not to worry so much if patients couldn’t afford to pay. He never took long vacations out of concern for the safety of those he was treating. And during one trip to a movie theater with one of his daughters, he wept almost inconsolably upon seeing “The Fisher King.”

“That’s my dad’s story,” Ivy, his daughter, remembered him saying as he sobbed over the fictional story about mental illness and recovery from trauma.

The longtime Atlanta psychiatrist and psychoanalyst died at age 89 at his assisted living residence at Orchard at Brookhaven on May 29. Leader’s wife, Mary Wool Leader, was at his side.

Those close to Leader described him as extraordinarily kind, generous and intelligent. He was a beloved mentor and a professional who unhesitatingly went to the mat for his patients, even if it meant rising in the middle of the night to visit one in the midst of a life-or-death crisis, or by avoiding long or distant vacations so he could quickly return in case of emergencies.

Leader, who specialized in post-traumatic stress disorder, taught for nearly a half-century at the Emory University School of Medicine and maintained his own practice, before retiring in his early 80s.

A New York City native, Leader was born in 1934 to Jewish immigrant parents from Ukraine, who met after arriving in America. They settled in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and opened a beauty parlor. Leader’s father, Albert, had escaped the murderous pogroms inflicted on Jews during the Russian Civil War and suffered from mental illness. Three of Leader’s children say that experience strongly influenced their father’s decision to enter the field. That, and Leader’s almost innate desire to help others, one said.

“It’s almost like he had a save-the-world complex, like if somebody had a need at all, he would swoop in to help,” said Leader’s daughter, Jane Leader Ripps.

Leader attended the highly-ranked Stuyvesant High School, then Hunter College, then New York University Medical School in New York City. After graduation, Leader went to work at Bellevue Hospital, where he met his future wife, who was a nursing student. There, Leader was exposed to patients suffering from a wide range of psychiatric disorders, including patients housed in the hospital’s prison ward. It was a traumatic and empathy-inducing experience that would indelibly shape Leader’s approach to treating such patients.

After getting drafted during the Vietnam War, Leader served two years at Fort Sam Houston in Texas where he trained medics, who affectionately gave him the nickname, “Doctor Strange.” He is credited with helping educate military doctors and specialists about the complexities of combat-related psychiatric conditions. In 1968, the family moved to Atlanta where, said Leader’s daughter, Barbara Nicolau, “he basically had three jobs: working at Emory, working at the VA (Hospital), and he had his own practice.”

David Leader recalled that his dad was so dedicated to this work that during the Atlanta ice storm of 1973 he went into the office when the roads were dangerous and the electricity was out to wait all day for patients to show up. None did.

Leader went on to serve as president of the Atlanta Psychoanalytic Society and became a sought-after expert witness on psychiatric disorders and issues for court cases. Among them, Ivy Leader recalled her father telling her, was a major abortion case in Georgia in the early 1970s, for which civil rights attorney Margie Pitts Hames had asked Leader to provide expert testimony. Hames was the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in Doe v. Bolton, a case that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court striking down Georgia’s restrictive abortion law on the same day in January 1973 that the high court legalized abortion nationwide in its Roe v. Wade decision.

Fellow psychiatric professionals remembered Leader as a dedicated teacher. Psychoanalyst Gail Anderson, whom Leader mentored while she was in residency called him “very encouraging and positive,” as well as overly generous with his time at regular Friday afternoon question-and-answer training sessions with younger psychiatrists.

One of Leader’s more memorable exchanges, recalled Anderson, was when a resident asked him what to do about patients who cannot afford to pay for their treatment.

“Don’t worry so much about the money,” was Leader’s reply. “You’ll make it, you know, one way or another. And this person might not be able to pay you, but she needs your help.”

“He was a gifted and kind man, compassionate, respectful of patients, dedicated, loyal, and a wise and highly trained expert in his field who really wanted to pass on clinical wisdom to the next generation,” Anderson said. “So, you know, we will miss him.”