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Joseph Henry French

Joseph Henry French


French, a pediatric neurologist, was born in Toledo. He received his B.A. in 1950 from Ohio State University and his M.D. from Ohio State University College of Medicine in 1954. French completed a pediatric residency in Philadelphia at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. He then continued his postgraduate training in Baltimore, where he served as a fellow in neurologic medicine at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine from 1958 to 1961, held a research fellowship in neurological medicine and biological chemistry from 1961 to 1962 and served as an assistant resident in neurology at Baltimore City Hospitals from 1960 to 1961. At Johns Hopkins, French trained with David Clark, who helped to develop child neurology as a specialty at Johns Hopkins.

From 1964 to 1979, French served as a professor of neurology and pediatrics, a director of the Pediatric Neurology Fellowship Training Program, and Assistant Dean for Student Education at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. He held an appointment as a professor of clinical neurology and pediatrics at the State University of New York (SUNY) from 1980 to the early 1990s. He served as the Deputy Director for Clinical Services at the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities from 1980 to 1986. From 1990 to 1996, French was a professor of pediatrics at Meharry Medical College. While there, French was director of the department of pediatrics and of the pediatric training program at Interfaith Medical Center, where he received a commendation for his work as a teacher and mentor.

As a researcher and clinician, French was particularly interested in disorders of lead and copper metabolism. Much of his work focused on understanding the genetics of neurological and developmental disorders which led to conditions such as epilepsy, migraine, and intellectual disabilities. In addition to synthesizing research in the field for edited volumes on neurology and pediatrics, French published and presented on topics such as intellectual disabilities, seizure disorders, Menkes syndrome (“kinky hair disease”), Fragile X syndrome, and Lowe syndrome. Some of French’s publications and presentations engaged with topics that were particularly relevant for African American and/or urban populations, such as sickle-cell disease, lead neurotoxicity, and neurological disorders and perinatal mortality.

French published dozens of articles over the course of his career and was co-editor of the International Review of Child Neurology from 1972 to 1990. He was a founding member of the Child Neurology Society and a longtime member of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Development Program, serving on the NIH Consensus Development Conference for the Treatment of Destructive Behaviors in Persons with Developmental Disabilities.

In partnership with his wife, Marilyn Doss French, French was also a supporter of civil rights and active in anti-racist community building. He marched to Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to help treat the ill and injured. In the different communities where they built their professional lives, Joseph and Marilyn French were active in the Unitarian Church; supported anti-racist adult and family education; helped to found and sustain a racially integrated children’s camp; and worked with different organizations devoted to social justice and change.

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