The Johns Hopkins Gazette: February 1, 1999
Feb. 1, 1999
VOL. 28, NO. 20


Bette Uphoff Strikes Gold At The School Of Medicine

Greg Rienzi
The Gazette
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Bette Uphoff (or Catherine as she is known on all her Hopkins documents) arrives at work each day around 7 a.m. with a smile on her face and a cup of coffee and a doughnut in her hand. At 11:40 a.m, she will take a break for lunch, her customary luncheon-meat sandwich she keeps in a brown paper bag and eats at her desk. At 4:30 p.m. Uphoff will be ready to head home, where she will cook herself dinner and settle in to read and watch some television.

Uphoff, who is a secretary in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in the School of Medicine, admits that there is nothing very unusual about her day, save for its routine. What is more unusual, however, is that Uphoff has been following it for 50 years.

To honor her years of service, the department gave a luncheon on Friday.

"It doesn't seem like 50 years," says Bette Uphoff of the position she's held since 1949.

While the world has witnessed such events as man's landing on the moon, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall and the explosion of computer technology, Uphoff has seen her world change very little since she was hired by that division on Jan. 31, 1949. But if you ask her, there is nothing extraordinary about her longevity. She just loves her job.

"It doesn't seem like 50 years. That is what I keep on saying to everybody," Uphoff says. "Time has gone by so fast, and I've never thought about doing anything different. I've been very satisfied with my job." She stops. "I know that sounds very boring."

Her work, she adds, has been anything but.

James Harris, director of Developmental Neuropsychiatry, says Uphoff has been in the unique position of watching her department evolve from its early stages. When she arrived, the division was little more than its founder, Leo Kanner, while today it incorporates 10 faculty members, five to six residents and various support staff.

Harris met Uphoff in 1971, when he was a senior resident in pediatrics, but came to know her better while he served as the director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry from 1978 to 1982.

He says Uphoff has always been a "wonderful resource" for him, in part due to her relationship with Kanner.

"She really brings the spirit of the beginnings of child psychiatry with her," Harris says. "Kanner was considered to be the father of the field of child psychiatry, and the warmth and sensitivity that Kanner exuded is literally personified in Bette. It is wonderful to hear her talk about him."

Uphoff fondly remembers her days spent with Kanner and recalls the special way he communicated with children. Child psychiatry in those days involved much more in the way of therapy, she recalls. Many of the young children participated in play therapy, in which doctors would observe their behavior with dolls and other toys, while the older children would have long talks with the doctors. "Kids will tell you anything," she adds.

But as the division grew, the medical staff started to deal with a wider range of patients and many more severe cases. "Nowadays medication is the magic word," Uphoff says. "That is certainly one big change I've noticed over the years."

Uphoff says she has learned a lot about various psychiatric problems during her career at Hopkins, primarily through the case histories which, until recently, she took down by short-hand and then transcribed.

In fact, it was typing up these patient histories, now done by the physicians, that had been one of the favorite aspects of her job.

"I enjoy talking on the phone, too. But I love typing, just love it," she says.

Uphoff says others have been amazed she has stayed here so long, but she says what has kept things fresh has been the constant turnover of people she works with. Every two years new residents appear on the scene, and she's worked with seven directors and numerous faculty members.

According to Leon Rosenberg, who has worked with Uphoff since 1963, she has been "an island of stability while things have raged around her.

"She is just a steady, solid, smiling and pleasant person who just barrels out the work," says Rosenberg, director of the Children's Mental Health Center. "No matter what wackiness is going on around her, she just settles in and gets her job done."

As for having such a steady routine, Uphoff says she wouldn't want it any other way. She has had the same best friend since high school, goes to Ocean City every year and, save for stretches of harsh winter weather, always manages to make her way into work.

"I've never been married and, rap on wood, never had a major illness. I've just been here the whole time," Uphoff says. "I hadn't even thought of retiring over the years. I figure as long as I have good health, I'll just keep going. After you've been doing something for this many years, it's hard to just stop. I think when I retire I will have to so some volunteer work or something. I don't want to just stay home."

Uphoff realizes that retirement is inevitable and admits that it has been on her mind these days. "I'm thinking about the year 2000. I think it's kind of a nice plateau," she says.

Upon retirement, Uphoff would like to do some traveling. One of the destinations she has in mind is Hawaii, a place she's longing to see. It will be, she says, her first airplane flight.