Herbert Edwin Thomas

October 25, 1928 ~ May 15, 2020 (age 91)


Herbert E. Thomas, M.D. 

On Friday, May 15, 2020, Herbert Edwin Thomas passed away peacefully at the age of 91 in Ithaca, New York, following complications from Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. A devoted husband, father, and grandfather, he practiced medicine for nearly fifty years in Pittsburgh and New York City. 

Herb was born on October 25, 1928, in Quebec City, Canada, to Herbert Brenton and Gladys Keene Thomas. He was a graduate of the Royal Canadian Naval College, McGill University, and Queen’s University School of Medicine and did his residency in psychiatry at The University of Michigan Medical Center. On March 3, 1951, he married Barbara Anne Olmsted, and together they raised three daughters and one son. 

After moving to Pittsburgh in 1961, Herb had a joint appointment at the Department of Psychiatry of the School of Medicine and the School of Law at the University of Pittsburgh. He graduated from the Pittsburgh Psychoanalytic Institute in 1974 and built private practices in Pittsburgh and New York City. 

Herb was a founding member and past President of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, and served as Editor of its quarterly bulletin for ten years. Among his other leadership commitments, he served as a member of the Board of Fellows of the National Center for Juvenile Justice. He was a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and an Honorary Life Member of the Canadian Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. 

In addition to his private practices, Herb consulted for thirty years at Western Penitentiary, a maximum security prison in Pittsburgh, where he first developed his theory of the shame response to rejection. The theory is based on an insight that interpersonal rejection is a powerful negative force that can be a foundational cause of deeply dysfunctional personal behavior, including violence. His book The Shame Response to Rejection was the premise for the documentary film Reject. 

Throughout a life of service to family, patients, and countless others who sought his counsel, Herb was a genuine humanitarian who saw the essential good and shared dignity in every human being. 

He is preceded in death by his parents and three sisters, Marjorie, Mavis, and Barbara. He is survived by his wife, Barbara Olmsted Thomas, and four children, Joanne Thomas Asbill (Henry) of Washington, D.C., Herbert Charles Thomas (Brooke) of Baltimore, Maryland, Heather Thomas Stevens (John) of Ithaca, New York, and Ruth Thomas Suh (Chan) of New York City, as well as fifteen grandchildren. 

At the time of his passing, Herb was a resident at Oak Hill Manor. His family will forever be grateful for the dedication of the staff and the quality of care that he received throughout his stay. 

Burial will take place at a family plot in Mount Herman’s Cemetery in Quebec City at a date to be determined. Contributions in Herb’s memory can be sent to Alternatives to Violence Project/New York, PO Box 6851, Ithaca, NY 14851. 

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