Dr. Leon Wanerman was born in Philadelphia, PA on July 12, 1935, to Charles and Marion Wanerman. He grew up in the Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn, where he remembered moving several times because “my mother would rather move than paint.” Leon fondly recalled playing Stickball in the streets around 41st avenue and Dahill Road.
Leon’s mother recalled that one day during primary school, Leon turned up at home unexpectedly in the middle of the day. “I was bored,” he explained. His family and school determined as a result of this that Leon possessed unusual cognitive skills, and he was moved up a grade. He graduated from high school at age 16 and entered the University of Chicago on an experimental accelerated learning program. There he befriended another underage prodigy, Carl Sagan, and the two remained friends until the end of Carl’s life.
Leon and Carl played basketball, a sport for which Leon remained passionate all his life, for the University team. Leon also recalled being a member of The Green Feather League, a group of students who wore green feather pins as a satirical protest of the University’s banning books on Robin Hood from the school library in capitulation to anti-communist hysteria.
Leon had developed an interest in Psychology when his father, Charles, took some night courses on the subject during Leon’s teens. Leon received his MD from Albany Medical College in 1960, after spending his first year of Medical School in Geneva, where he became fluent in French. Leon chose the University of California at San Francisco for his psychiatric residency.
It was an incredibly opportune place and time for Leon to pursue this stage of life. He was part of the medical team to first successfully restart a human heart via defibrillation, and worked with Erik Erikson among other luminaries in the field. In San Francisco, Leon’s love of food, music, theater, film and culture found a boundless host. Leon often said that it was in San Francisco where he first realized that vegetables did not originate in cans. It was also at UCSF where Leon met his future first wife, Paddy Moore, who was a nursing student at the time.
Leon and Paddy were married in 1962. They relocated to Marin County in between the birth of their first son, Brian, in 1963, and their second son, Todd, in 1964. Their daughter, Laura, was born in 1968.
Leon met his second wife, Nancy Rosenblum, when they were both members of a chorus performing Verdi’s requiem in Italy. Leon and Nancy were married in 1991. Leon embraced his role as step father to Nancy's daughters Leah and Sarah and was a loving grandfather to Zev, Arlo, Elliott, Oscar, Hannah, Odessa, and Ben. Leon and Nancy enjoyed a loving partnership and were true soulmates.
Leon was a pioneer in integrative medicine. He was a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCSF; Director of Children’s Services at the Marin Community Health Center in the late 1960’s; co-founded and led the Doctorate of Mental Health program at UC Berkeley in 1975; was Executive Director at The Children’s Health Council in Palo Alto; and an Adjunct Lecturer in Child Psychiatry at Stanford University. He co-authored two influential books on the psychiatric treatment of children.
Leon was known to his colleagues as a vibrant thinker and compassionate leader. His colleagues recall his ability to see unmet needs in the field of supporting children and families, and to synthesize isolated aspects of care and treatment in innovative and effective ways.
Leon was particularly proud of his last job, teaching Child Psychiatry and supervising graduate students at Stanford University. He held the job until one year before his passing – a culmination of a lifetime of service and support to children, families and communities.
Leon's many passions are carried on both in his influence in the field of child psychiatry and in his children and grandchildren through their love of food, cooking, travel, books, music, and through their work in the fields of medicine, social work, early childhood education and law.