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Dr. Robert Reich of Great Neck, a tireless advocate for homeless, dies

Dr. Robert Reich was a tireless advocate for

Dr. Robert Reich was a tireless advocate for the homeless. Reich, 79, of Great Neck directed NYC's homeless psychiatric services under Mayor Koch, died at age 79. Credit: Family photo

Dr. Robert Reich’s tireless passion for helping people ranged from the public sector, where he directed New York City’s psychiatric services policies under Mayor Ed Koch, to the private, where he kept a grueling schedule of seeing patients at his home office up until the day he fell ill.

“He couldn’t even imagine retiring,” said his son James Reich, 48, of San Francisco. “He really enjoyed helping people and seeing his patients really almost more than anything.”

Reich, of Great Neck, died of heart problems on Jan. 25. He was 79.

Born in Montreal, Reich attended McGill University where his pre-medicine studies were nearly derailed by the amount of time he spent working as editor of the student newspaper. He attended medical school at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, where he met Mary Enright, who was studying nursing at the same school.

After graduating from medical school in 1962, Reich followed Enright out to her job in Santa Barbara, California. The two married and with Reich due to start his internship at Kings County Hospital a month later, they set out on a cross-country honeymoon in a rickety Oldsmobile, Mary Reich said.

“We got as far as New Jersey. Luckily we had a friend who had found us an apartment in Brooklyn already,” said Mary Reich, 80, of Great Neck. “We basically had no money by the time we got to New Jersey, but we were able to cross the river and get to Brooklyn.”

After completing a residency at Mount Sinai Hospital, Reich started his private practice in 1967 as well as launching a lifelong career in teaching at Mount Sinai’s medical school. He also began working as a consultant with what was then called the New York City Department of Welfare and is now known as the Human Resources Administration.

Reich was the chief psychiatrist in the Bureau of Child Welfare from 1973 to 1977, and then rose to the position of director of psychiatry from 1977 to 1983 working in the Koch administration.

Reich’s daughter, Sharon Dickey, remembered late-night phone calls from the mayor.

“Once Koch called him in the middle of the night to come to Grand Central Station because there was a homeless person who wouldn’t leave,” said Dickey, 40, of Aix-en-Provence, France. “He had to go to the absolute pit of Grand Central in the middle of the night, where you didn’t want to be back then.”

Reich maintained two private practices and, well past the time of typical retirement, he would see up to 15 patients a day, seven days a week — but Saturday nights were sacrosanct for enjoying fine food, wine and life, his family said.

“He saw (Bob) Dylan perform . . . He went to all the folk music shows and the blues and opera,” Dickey said.

But Reich’s main mission stayed focused on his psychiatric work — he saw patients up until the day he was hospitalized last fall.

“He really changed people’s lives,” Dickey said. “Every person that he knew even slightly, he helped them in some way.”

Reich’s funeral was held Jan. 29 at Riverside North Chapel in Great Neck. He was buried at New Montefiore Cemetery in Farmingdale.

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