Oct 7, 2020

Remembering Dr. Vivian Rakoff

A portrait photo of Dr. Vivian Rakoff

Dr. Vivian Rakoff, former Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, passed away on October 1, 2020 at the age of 92.

Faculty and community members can pay their respects on the National Post Remembering Guestbook set up by Dr. Rakoff's family.

In June 2006, Dr. Pier Bryden and Dr. David Goldbloom interviewed Dr. Rakoff for a planned book about the perspectives of psychiatrists and the intersection between their personal and professional lives. Though the conversation wasn't included in the final book, they've now made it available in full.

The following letter was sent by Dr. Benoit H. Mulsant, Professor and Labatt Family Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, to our community.


Dear friends and colleagues,

I just learned some sad news: Dr. Vivian Rakoff, Professor Emeritus and former Chair of the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry, has passed away at the age of 92.
Born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1928, Dr. Rakoff moved to Toronto after completing McGill University’s psychiatry program in the 1960s. He served as the Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Sunnybrook Hospital from 1968-1970, prior to moving to the Clarke Institute (now part of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health), where he was Psychiatrist-in-Chief from 1980 to 1990. During this time, he was also Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

A renowned educator, Dr. Rakoff taught generations of students to incorporate humanism into the clinical care they provided. He believed that by bringing art and science together, physicians could provide better care to their patients and enrich their practice. His passion for art was further expressed in the numerous plays, radio plays, poems, and essays he authored. He co-edited psychiatry textbooks that were widely used by medical students and residents across Canada.

Dr. Rakoff’s research covered a wide range of issues, including alcoholism, childhood and adolescence, family dynamics, obesity, and the challenges faced by children of Holocaust survivors. His work in adolescent and family psychiatry was especially ground-breaking.

He was a pioneer in implementing PET imaging for psychiatric research in Toronto: the first PET scanner and cyclotron at the Clarke Institute were financed and built under his leadership. He also played an important role in the early efforts to raise philanthropic funds for mental health research in Toronto, leading to the founding of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Foundation.

After retirement, he continued to educate and explore art and science, giving public talks on culture, philosophy, and the dramatic arts.

In 2015, Dr. Rakoff was named a Member of the Order of Canada, honouring a lifetime of contributions to the field of psychiatry and the mental health of Canadians.
I remember fondly my interactions with Dr. Rakoff and his eloquence and wit during the CAMH Grand Rounds, which he attended regularly until a few years ago.

He was beloved by all and will be missed.
Take care, keep safe, stay well,

Benoit H. Mulsant,
Professor and Labatt Family Chair of the Department of Psychiatry