Robert Fudge Shannon (1933–1992)
A pioneer in mental healthcare for Arkansas, Robert Fudge Shannon was the first chief resident in psychiatry at the University of Arkansas Medical School, now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). He also established the state’s first psychiatric outpatient program for adolescents, helped launch Arkansas’s first private psychiatric inpatient treatment unit, founded the first private psychiatric clinic in the state, and served as commissioner of mental health.
Born on April 15, 1933, in Melbourne (Izard County), the second of three children of newspaperman Karr Shannon and Ollie Ellen (Fudge) Shannon, Bob Shannon attended school in Melbourne until 1944, when the family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County). He graduated from Little Rock High School (now Little Rock Central High School).
Shannon attended Little Rock Junior College (now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock), as well as Arkansas State Teachers College (now the University of Central Arkansas) and Hendrix College, and then taught science in Paris (Logan County) before completing pre-med requirements and earning a BSM degree from the University of Arkansas Medical School in 1953. He received his MD degree from the medical school in 1957 and completed a rotating general internship at Arkansas Baptist Hospital (now Baptist Health). He returned to the university for residency programs in neurology and psychiatry (1958–1959) and in psychiatry (1959–1960), becoming chief resident and instructor in psychiatry (1960–1961). He was certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in 1965, admitted as a fellow in the American Psychiatric Association in 1974, and elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society in 1982.
On July 4, 1953, Shannon married Cloreda Laverne Price of Vilonia (Faulkner County), and they had two children. Following their divorce in 1976, he married Lyra Carolyn (Fugler) Conaway of Marshall, Texas, on September 25, 1976. She brought two children to the marriage.
Shannon began teaching at what is now UAMS in 1959, interrupting his tenure to serve two years (1961–1963) in the U.S. Army as chief of neuropsychiatry at Fort Bragg Womach Army Hospital in North Carolina at the rank of captain. Upon discharge from the military, he returned to the faculty of the medical school, where he co-founded the university’s Adolescent Clinic and served as its director (1963–1967).
In 1965, Shannon and three partners—psychiatrists Fred Broach and Henry Good and psychiatric social worker Bud Hyde—founded Arkansas Psychiatric Clinic. Shannon served as its president (1965–71) while teaching part time at UAMS. In 1971, he returned to the university on a full-time basis, also serving as residency director (1971–1983). In 1976, he achieved the rank of professor, and he directed the Division of General Psychiatry and Behavioral Science Department from 1977 to 1982.
As state commissioner of mental health (1982–1985), Shannon headed a program that was among the nation’s top ten in services and bottom ten in cost. He received a President’s Award (1984–1985) for service to the severely and chronically mentally ill in Arkansas. He opposed the degree of deinstitutionalization that had occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, which resulted in some 800 of the state’s mentally ill becoming homeless. The trend toward a more centralized model for state functions led the Arkansas General Assembly to restructure the Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health Services, creating two positions to replace that of commissioner of mental health in a provision of Act 348, effective as of July 1, 1985. Neither of the new posts required Shannon’s credentials or carried the authority that would allow him to accomplish his goals for the division. In May 1985, he submitted his resignation, to be concurrent with the effective date of Act 348. Following his resignation, Shannon held medical director positions at Rivendell Children’s Center, the Bridgeway (Hospital) Adolescent Program, Pinnacle Point Hospital, and Professional Counseling Associates, devoting the rest of his career to private practice focused on adolescents, children, and families.
Shannon authored or collaborated on numerous professional articles, contributed to Medical Education in Arkansas, 1879–1978, and researched and wrote the biographical introduction to Karr Shannon’s Best, a compilation of his father’s newspaper columns.
Shannon died from complications of acute necrotizing pancreatitis on September 30, 1992, at Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock. His ashes are buried at Pinecrest Cemetery near Little Rock.
For additional information:
Baird, W. David. Medical Education in Arkansas, 1879–1978. Memphis: Memphis State University Press. 1979.
Baker, Max L., ed. Historical Perspectives: The College of Medicine at the Sesquicentennial. Little Rock: Arkansas Sesquicentennial Commission, 1986.
Hoffman, Garry. “Outlook Gloomy in Mental Health.” Arkansas Democrat. June 19, 1983, p. 3F.
Masterson, Mike, and Gene Nail. “Agency ‘Cheats’ Mental Patients of Proper Care.” Arkansas Democrat. December 14, 1983, pp. 1A, 11A, 13A.
“Services Planned for Noted Psychiatrist.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. October 2, 1992, p. 8B.
Bay City, Michigan
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