Judith Palfrey

On a ward at Children's Hospital, the head of the division of general pediatrics is worrying...

On a ward at children’s hospital, the head of the division of general pediatrics is worrying about several cases of child abuse, two children with HIV, and a baby whose mother was addicted to heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. Judith Palfrey ’67 speaks quietly about these things, but with intense feeling. She and her husband, Sean Palfrey ’67, also a pediatrician, have a daughter, now a freshman at Columbia, and two sons, both College graduates who attend the Law School. Palfrey is Brazelton professor of pediatrics, master of Adams House, and director of the interfaculty Harvard Children’s Initiative (HCI), which brings “the best of Harvard thinking to problems relating to children” by drawing on the expertise of faculty members across the University. In a world of changing family structures and gender roles, Palfrey emphasizes the importance of what happens when children leave the hospital; if the family and community support is not there, she says, “then everything we do is for naught.” HCI focuses on neurological development, violence, and mental health—issues often intertwined in children. As Palfrey explains, “We’re beginning to see that violent behaviors probably get laid down when a baby’s brain is developing, so that’s when you are going to do the major preventive work.” Palfrey “loves” being a House master and says the future is bright because young people today are “more likely to problem-solve than to protest,” as her generation did. She has not seen the ghost (one of General Burgoyne’s soldiers) said to haunt the basement of Apthorp House, the master’s residence. “But we have a little cat whose name is Abigail Adams,” she says, “and I’m sure that she has.”

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