Oliver Harold French, M.D. (1921 - 2018)



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Obituary for Dr. Oliver H. French
Dr. Oliver French, a longtime resident of Ithaca, NY, passed away peacefully in his sleep on January 22, 2018, age 96.
Oliver was born as Helmut Otto Freund on September 3, 1921, to a well-off Jewish family in Berlin. His maternal great-grandfather, Leopold Ullstein, was founder of the prestigious Ullstein publishing house, a heritage the family bore proudly. His mother trained as a social worker, and his father was a successful lawyer.
On April 1, 1933, the family fled Germany, ahead of the boycott of Jewish businesses that had been proclaimed for the next day. They moved first to southern France, where his father hoped to establish a farm. Oliver and his brother were sent to boarding school and quickly became fluent in French. The farm plan was cut short by their father’s sudden death, and the family moved to Paris. Late in 1935 they moved again to London, where they finally settled. Oliver completed his secondary education in classics and won a scholarship to Peterhouse College at Cambridge University.
Oliver’s university plans were put on hold by the outbreak of World War II in Europe on his 18th birthday. After a brief period of internment as an “enemy alien,” he was released to join the British Army. In the lead-up to the invasion of Europe, he trained as a tank radio operator, but the invasion itself found him in officer training, and he eventually saw active duty as a British officer in India after the end of the war. It was during his army service that he, like other soldiers with refugee backgrounds, anglicized his name, to Oliver Harold French.
Oliver returned to England early in 1946 to take up his place at Cambridge, where he received his BA with First-Class honors in 1948. He married Hannah Adler, a fellow medical student and also a refugee from Europe, in 1949. He completed his medical degree at Cambridge in 1952 and qualified as an anesthesiologist in 1956.
In 1957, the couple emigrated to the US with their three small daughters and settled in Freeport, Long Island. Oliver began working as an anesthesiologist at South Nassau Communities Hospital, while Hannah established a private practice as a psychiatrist.
Following Hannah’s untimely death in November, 1972, Oliver took at increasing interest in psychotherapy. After studying Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy with its initiator, renowned psychologist Albert Ellis, he moved to Lexington, Kentucky, to re-qualify as a psychiatrist. He met his second wife, Norma Prendergast, in Lexington, and they moved together to Ithaca, where Norma completed her Ph.D. in Art History at Cornell, while Oliver completed his psychiatry residency in Rochester. Life in Ithaca agreed with them, and they decided to put down roots: Norma found work at Cornell, and Oliver was appointed Chief Psychiatrist of Tompkins County. His work brought him into contact with a varied population, including youth offenders and abuse victims, and he took a keen interest in the treatment of individuals with Multiple Personality Disorder, a consequence of abuse.
Oliver’s work for Tompkins County gave him great satisfaction, and he continued until well past retirement age, retiring from his final part-time position only at age 94. He also returned to his early classical education by translating medical texts from Latin and German into English. An avid sportsman, he enjoyed skiing (a perk of living in upstate New York), tennis, bowling and golf, and won a medal in the local Senior Olympics in his 80s. He joined Norma in her enthusiasm for gardening, and they enjoyed gathering and canning their seasonal crops.
With his literary background, Oliver also nurtured a talent for writing. He wrote the entry on Anesthesiology for the Encyclopedia Americana (19??) and later in life composed memoirs and poems, some of which were published in a chapbook.
Oliver is fondly remembered for his positive and caring nature, his open, accepting and unassuming demeanor, his broad erudition and his interest in almost everything. He is survived by his wife, Norma Prendergast, his three daughters, Deborah French Greniman, Naomi Ben-Ari and Dr. Jacqueline French, who followed him into the medical profession, and by his eight grandchildren and, at last count, three great-grandchildren.

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in Berlin, Germany


on in Ithaca, Tompkins County, New York United States

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Cambridge in the United Kingdom.


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After a brief period of internment as an “enemy alien,” he was released to join the British Army. In the lead-up to the invasion of Europe, he trained as a tank radio operator, but the invasion itself found him in officer training, and he eventually saw active duty as a British officer in India after the end of the war. It was during his army service that he, like other soldiers with refugee backgrounds, anglicized his name, to Oliver Harold French.

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United States Citizen






1921 - In the year that Oliver Harold French, M.D. was born, in May, the Emergency Quota Act - or Emergency Immigration Act - was passed. The law restricted the number of immigrants to 357,000 per year. It also established an immigration quota in which only 3 per cent of the total population of any ethnic group already in the USA in 1910, could be admitted to America after 1921. Although the Act was supposed to be temporary, it stayed in effect until 1965.

1931 - At the age of just 10 years old, Oliver was alive when on May 1st, the Empire State Building opened in New York City. At 1,454 feet (including the roof and antenna), it was the tallest building in the world until the World Trade Center's North Tower was built in 1970. (It is now the 34th tallest.) Opening at the beginning of the Great Depression, most of the offices in the Empire State Building remained unoccupied for years and the observation deck was an equal source of revenue and kept the building profitable.

1932 - Oliver was only 11 years old when on February 27th, actress Elizabeth Taylor was born in London. Her parents were Americans living in London and when she was 7, the family moved to Los Angeles. Her first small part in a movie was in There's One Born Every Minute in 1942 but her first starring role was in National Velvet in 1944. She became as famous for her 8 marriages (to 7 people) as she was for her beauty and films.

1949 - By the time he was 28 years old, on January 25th, the first Emmy Awards (for television) were handed out in Los Angeles. Shirley Dinsdale won for the Most Outstanding Television Personality and Pantomime Quiz Time earned an Emmy for the Most Popular Television Program.

1952 - At the age of 31 years old, Oliver was alive when on February 6th, George VI of England died from a coronary thrombosis and complications due to lung cancer. His eldest daughter, age 25, immediately ascended the throne as Elizabeth II and her coronation was on June 2 1953.

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This obit of Oliver Harold French, M.D. is updated by the community. Edit this biography to contribute to his obituary. Include details such as cemetery, burial, newspaper obituary and grave or marker inscription if available.

Oliver Harold French, M.D. passed away on January 23, 2018 in Ithaca, New York at 96 years old. There is no known cause of death. He was born on September 3, 1921 in Berlin, Germany. We are unaware of information about Oliver's family or relationships.

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Fine physician and a good friend.
Apr 22 · Reply
What are the names of his daughters?
Apr 22 · Reply
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