Robert J. Herbert

Robert Herbert 3webRobert J. Herbert, a caring and compassionate psychiatrist who helped hundreds of Dallas-area patients over the course of his distinguished career, died June 22 in St. Louis Park, Minn. He was 83.

In an era in which physicians tended to race from patient to patient, Dr. Herbert’s deliberate and highly principled approach stood out. He didn’t breeze through patients. He absorbed their stories, their problems, their struggles, and their dreams.

“He could be so brilliant as he muddled through the most layered, complex set of messes, i.e., the human condition, effortlessly,” recalled Jeanne Haflinger, a registered nurse who met Dr. Herbert in 1985. “Working with him, I became a better nurse.”

Once, while working with a teenage girl, Dr. Herbert realized she needed to reconnect with an absent father who suddenly was awarded custody. Dr. Herbert sat down and crafted a letter to the father, explaining in a very powerful and persuasive way how important fatherhood is — and how much his daughter would need him in her life.

“I would say with certainty that 99.99 percent of psychiatrists would not have done that,” Ms. Haflinger says now.

What many remember most was his sense of humor and quick wit. Never a dullard, Dr. Herbert knew how to connect with almost anyone, from prison inmates to the elite of the American medical profession.

“Fun, funny, very smart, loved music and history, loved his sons and grandsons,” says longtime friend Carol Alkek of Dallas.

Harvard-educated, Dr. Herbert had a distinguished career at multiple Dallas-area facilities, and was a clinical associate professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. He was a member of the Harvard Club of Dallas and he and his wife, Susan, were loyal patrons of the Dallas Symphony.

He was the “supreme Harvard/Southern gentleman … [with] old world charm,” says Ms. Haflinger. “My mother absolutely loved him.”

Dr. Herbert was born in New York City to Robert and Cora Herbert and grew up on West 78th Street in Manhattan. At age 17, he enrolled at Harvard and served in the Navy ROTC, which led to a three-year stint as a Navy lieutenant after he graduated in 1951.

Dr. Herbert attended Columbia Medical School for two years, then transferred to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where he graduated in 1958. He interned in Denver and completed his residency at the Boston V.A. Hospital.

In 1962, Dr. Herbert settled in Dallas, where he started a private practice in psychiatry. He was very active in the Dallas medical community and served on staff or as medical director at several area hospitals, including Green Oaks, Presbyterian, Grace Community Mental Health Center, and the Arlington Clinic of Tarrant County. Throughout his career, he received many letters and thank-yous from the many, many patients whose lives were changed by his expertise in psychiatry and his genuine caring.

In August of 1964, he married Susan Torgerson, from Moorhead, Minn. They and had two sons, John and Douglas. He and Susan first lived on Beverly, and moved to the 4500 block of Lorraine in 1967. In 1975, they moved to the 4500 block of Bordeaux, where he lived until early 2001. He had been an active member of Preston Road Church of Christ since moving to Highland Park. In 2006, when his health began to decline, he moved to St. Louis Park, Minn., to be near his sons and grandchildren.

Bob was preceded in death by his wife, Susan; his brother, Bruce E. Herbert; and nephew Geoffrey Herbert. Surviving relatives include his sons, John and Douglas; daughter-in-law, Susan Herbert; niece Caroline Hillkirk; and grandchildren Joseph, Thomas, and Michael.

Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. on July 11 at Preston Road Church of Christ. Bob will be laid to rest next to his late wife at Sparkman/Hillcrest Cemetery in Dallas.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made in Bob’s name to the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra, 3630 Harry Hines Blvd., Dallas TX 75219 or to Team 25, the Shjon Podein Children’s Foundation,, P.O. Box 6482, Rochester, MN, 55903.

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