Dennis J. McCrory MD, a self-described “incurable optimist” who for more than 60 years brought healing to his patients with mental illness and was a pioneer in the field of psychiatric rehabilitation, died July 24 in the nursing facility at Newbridge on the Charles. He was 87.
Dennis, who had taken ill with amyloidosis of the heart and dysphagia for the past year, continued to speak to patients until his death. He underwent the rigorous medical license renewal process in 2019 even as he professed to be in “semi-retirement.” He recently did grand rounds and continued to consult for the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, while also lobbying for legislation and funding for club houses, housing and other services for those with mental illness. He also met regularly with a group of other psychiatrists, joining by phone this spring until his death. “We could never imagine Dad truly retired,” said his eldest daughter, Anne. “His work was his passion, even as he was the best dad imaginable.”
Dennis was known for his warmth, empathy and extreme caring – “not just for his patients, not just his family, but everybody. He had so many friends and would like to thank everybody for how rich they made his life,” said Jane McCrory, his wife of 58 years. Family members noted how he thanked them profusely each time they called or said they were thinking of him over the past months via phone, and he frequently said what a lucky man he was.
“Dennis was a cherished friend and an inestimable mentor to me. I will miss his warm smile, his twinkling eyes, his magnetic personality … and his all-encompassing embrace,” said David Creasy, who had worked with him to form the New England Psychiatric Training Program.
In his work, Dennis was known for his passion for recovery and vocational rehabilitation, for changing the perception of mental illness from a stigma to conditions that could be managed and lead to full lives for those afflicted with it. He treated some patients for more than 40 years, from childhood or adolescence through much of their adult lives.
Honors during his distinguished career included the prestigious Eli Lilly Reintegration Lifetime Achievement Award, the Distinguished Service Award for Rehabilitation and Recovery from the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, and the Outstanding Psychiatrist Award for Public Psychiatry from the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society.
Dennis was also a devout Catholic and member of St. Ignatius Parish in Chestnut Hill and previously Sacred Heart Parish in Newton Centre. With Jane, he enjoyed nature – walks in the woods, a nature reading group at Habitat in Belmont and a camp in Vermont. He also loved to read, to pray, watch classic movies and do crossword and jigsaw puzzles, and with his family liked to reminisce of his youth as a movie usher on 86th Street in New York, where he developed his lifelong love of film, and driver of a Coca-Cola truck making deliveries around the city in his early 20s.
Even with his work, Dennis’ family was the focus of his life. He was a loving father to Anne McCrory of Framingham, her partner Jim Idzal and his son Jack; Carolyn McCrory of New York City; and Katharine Jane of Brookline. He was grandfather to Sophia Jane of Brookline, and was very involved in her upbringing. He was delighted by her art, performances in musical theatre and singing.
Dennis was born in 1933 in New York City. He was the son of John McCrory, a bootlegger and candy store owner who was said to have hidden alcohol in his baby carriage, and Anna (Brodmerkel) McCrory Antes, who worked in department stores. He grew up in the Yorkville neighborhood in Manhattan and was close to his mother’s family, especially his grandmother, his Uncle Otto, a cab driver, and Aunt Charlotte, an office worker, after his dad passed when he was 9. His mother later remarried, to William Antes.
Dennis went to parochial school in New York and, after taking exams for high school, chose to go to Regis High School. Though he’d had his sights set on a different school, that one was $5 a month, and Regis had offered him a scholarship, its renown unknown to him. It gave him lifelong friendships and launched his academic talent, as its rigor, with his intelligence and hard work, led to scholarships at Fordham University and NYU Medical School. He was a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha honor society.
Dennis completed his medical internship at Ohio State University Hospital and moved to Boston for his residency at Mass Mental Health Center in 1961. There, he was a chief resident and held faculty appointments at Harvard Medical School until 1974 and Tufts Medical School until 1978.
Dennis went on to a 32-year career as a child psychiatrist and clinical supervisor at South Shore Mental Health Center. His many roles there included chief child psychiatrist for 20 years and work with the Randolph schools. He retired from SSMHC in 1999 but continued on in his private practice and as chief psychiatric consultant (1973-present) for Mass Rehab, as chair of the Friends of the Psychiatrically Disabled (1985-2003), on a council of Fountain House in New York (1984-2020) and on the board of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Massachusetts chapter. He was also on the subcommittee on employment at the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. He won numerous awards and was published in various rehabilitation journals and books.
Dr. McCrory gave hundreds of presentations, lectures, seminars, keynotes and TV interviews on topics including psychiatric disorders, vocational rehabilitation and recovery and community reintegration of persons with physical and psychiatric disabilities, transitional stress and alliance building.
“It’s a great, great loss,” said Dr. George Sigel, a longtime friend and founder of the psychiatrists group. “He was a great, great gift.”
Calling hours with safe social distancing will be Wednesday from 4-7 pm at Eaton & Mackay Funeral Home, 465 Center St., Newton Corner. His Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Thurs at 10 AM in St Ignatius of Loyola Church, Chestnut Hill followed by interment in Newton Cemetery.
Donations in lieu of flowers may be made to the National Alliance on Mental Illness at namimass.org. The family would like to thank Dr. James Kirshenbaum of Brigham & Women’s for his wonderful caring and treatment.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Dennis J McCrory, MD, please visit our floral store.