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In Memoriam: Charles E. “Charlie” Riordan, MD

July 23, 2021

Charles E. “Charlie” Riordan, MD, a longtime member of the clinical faculty in the Yale Department of Psychiatry and retired Chairman of Psychiatry at the Hospital of St. Raphael in New Haven, died July 17, 2021. He was 83.

Riordan was recruited to Yale by the late Dr. Herbert D. Kleber in the early days of the department’s Substance Abuse Treatment Unit at the Connecticut Mental Health Center (CMHC), a pioneering program where patients were evaluated and treated for alcohol and drug abuse.

Riordan became medical director of the unit and with Kleber, Rosalyn Liss, and others helped build it into one of the preeminent addiction programs in the world.

Riordan was described as the “clinical glue” of the program. He oversaw and ran community clinics and evaluated patients while he taught young clinicians how to work with patients and their families. He was a skilled addiction psychiatrist who pioneered methadone maintenance as a treatment for opiate addiction. In the clinic, he perfected the balance of keeping the atmosphere light while taking very seriously the important role of counseling and treating patients with severe addictions.

“He loved jokes, but he was tough as nails,” said Richard Schottenfeld, MD, Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Howard University College of Medicine who trained under Riordan and was his longtime colleague at Yale. “He was willing to play whatever role he needed to. There was nothing stiff or formal about him. He made work fun because he was excited and interested and because he cared.”

“What I remember most was his passion and his tenacity when it came to doing the very best that we could for people that were afflicted with substance abuse disorders,” said Robert Cole, MHSA, Chief Operating Officer of CMHC. “He would do whatever he thought was necessary to advance the cause.”

Riordan graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1963 and began working at Yale seven years later. He and his wife, Pat, to whom he was married 59 years, settled in Madison, where they raised four children.

He was appointed Chair of Psychiatry at the Hospital of St. Raphael in 1987 and a year later was named Chief Medical Officer. Over the next decade he chaired “Fighting Back,” a Robert Wood Johnson initiative to develop a strategy for substance abuse prevention and treatment in the New Haven community.

Riordan chaired the Council of Addiction Psychiatry and the Committee on Standards for the American Psychiatric Association and was very active with the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) as a member of JCAHO’s Professional and Technical Advisory Committee. He was also a member of the Executive Committee of the Connecticut State Mental Health Board. He served on the Board of Trustees for the Connecticut Hospital Association for a decade and culminated in his service as Chairman.

He retired from St. Raphael’s in 2007 but continued to work in private practice and for Connecticut Hospice. His long and distinguished record of service to Connecticut’s healthcare community spanned 50 years. He was the author of dozens of published clinical research papers, recognized as a national expert on addiction psychiatry, testified before Congress, and consulted for Major League Baseball.

Known as Pop Pop to his 11 grandchildren, he cherished summer vacations with family and enjoyed attending his grandchildren’s functions, from basketball, lacrosse, and soccer games to swim meets and school activities. His favorite summer tradition while on vacation was to wake up early each morning to grab a large box of doughnuts so that when his grandchildren woke up they could sit at the table and talk with him. He played golf, was a member of St. Margaret Roman Catholic Church in Madison, and enjoyed Broadway plays and the Boston Pops. He and Pat traveled throughout the world.

From his obituary: “Charlie had tremendous insight into the human condition. Educated in the Jesuit tradition, he was always a man for others. His unique gifts were his ability to connect with people and his capacity to offer compassion and empathy especially to those who needed it most. He had an understated grace to his demeanor and an enthusiasm that endeared him to people. When you spoke to Charlie you always had his full attention and he made it clear you were important, and you mattered to him.”

Submitted by Christopher Gardner on July 23, 2021