In Memoriam: Louis J. Kaplan

In Memoriam: Louis J. Kaplan February 24, 1916–January 8, 2013


Louis Jack Kaplan, M.A., who served as associate dean for government and community affairs during a turbulent era in the history of Yale School of Medicine and played pivotal roles in the development of the institution, died on January 8 in Springfield, Va. He was 96.

Mr. Kaplan spent much of his professional life working on behalf of a world-renowned medical institution barely a block from where he grew up in poverty during the depth of the Great Depression. His work helped to establish the Connecticut Mental Health Center and the Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Mr. Kaplan worked at the Farnum Neighborhood House as a youth counselor and graduated from Hillhouse High School in the midst of the Great Depression. He found a job working for the Railway Express Agency. That experience led to him being assigned to the U.S. Army division responsible for managing the European railroad network during World War II. He was stationed in Paris shortly after the liberation of the city.

Mr. Kaplan met his wife, Freda Lerman Mackler, not long after he returned to New Haven at the end of the war. They were married and moved to New York City, where he earned his bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in social work and public health at New York University.

He was hired as director of field services for the Connecticut Mental Health Association in 1956, where he worked with community members, government agencies, and other institutions. Mr. Kaplan also conducted a series of fundraising events with celebrities—including Vivian Vance, Lucille Ball’s best friend on “I Love Lucy,” and baseball great Jackie Robinson—to raise public awareness about mental health issues.

Mr. Kaplan became the executive director of the Connecticut Mental Health Association, and soon after he was recruited to the planning team for the new Connecticut Mental Health Center (CMHC). He worked with neighborhood representatives, hospital executives, medical school administrators, New Haven officials, and state and federal agencies to develop the center and was appointed its first executive director. The following year, in 1967, he was named assistant to Dean Frederick Redlich, M.D. Not long after he arrived in his new position, the city of New Haven was engulfed in racial riots similar to those that swept other cities at the time. Mr. Kaplan worked with community representatives and government officials to quell the violence and initiate new programs to address many of the local issues, which had sparked the unrest.

For the next 18 years, Mr. Kaplan assumed responsibilities for the medical school’s community, government, and alumni relations, adding the title of associate dean to his resume from 1979 to 1985. He also served as a lecturer at the School of Public Health. It was as an instructor and student advisor there that he met Cornell Scott, who earned an M.P.H. from Yale in 1968 and would become the longtime director of New Haven’s Hill Health Center. Kaplan and Scott worked closely with others in the community to create the center with the support of the medical school and state and federal funds. Mr. Kaplan served on the center’s board for many years and helped it become a model for community health care services worldwide.

Mr. Kaplan also helped realize the Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. The coalitions he forged to obtain funding for the cancer center included representatives from the university, and from city, state, and federal agencies. John Doyle, a member of Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker’s legislative staff at the time, recalls the fierce competition among the nation’s medical schools for federal funding for cancer centers. “We wouldn’t have won the necessary federal funds to build the Cancer Center,” he said, “if it wasn’t for Lou’s skills and personal relationships.”

Mr. Kaplan’s successor as associate dean for government and community affairs, Myron Genel, M.D., now professor emeritus of pediatrics, recalls that upon assuming the position he found that, while Mr. Kaplan was not well known to the medical school’s faculty, he was the face of the medical school to much of the surrounding community. “His fingerprints were virtually everywhere—and often not readily recognizable.”

Upon his retirement from the School of Medicine, Mr. Kaplan received public proclamations from federal, state, and local officials. He continued to serve for many years on the boards of the Hill Health Center, South Central Community College (now Gateway College), Urban League of New Haven, Hill Development Corporation, and other organizations in the community.

In addition to his wife, Freda, he leaves his children, Jeffrey, of Wellesley, Mass., and Jan, of Annandale, Va.; his daughter-in-law, Alison Kaplan; son-in-law, Leonard Wolfenstein; sister, Mildred Ratoosh, of Berkeley, Calif.; sister-in-law, Lil; and five grandsons: Jacob, Ethan, Grant, Ben, and Noah. He was predeceased by his two brothers, Harry and Saul.

The family requests that donations be made in Mr. Kaplan’s name to the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center ( A memorial service at Yale this spring is being planned.

This article was submitted by Michael E Fitzsousa on January 29, 2013.