McLean Director Emeritus Francis de Marneffe, MD, has chronicled many of his 96 years in two memoirs and is putting the finishing touches on a third.
His life is brimming with stories. At age 16, he bicycled from Belgium across France just as the Germans invaded in 1940. He became a pilot in Britain’s Royal Air Force during World War II, and after the war, he returned to medical school in London and graduated in 1950, when he came to the United States to begin a nearly 70-year relationship with McLean Hospital.
Along the way, de Marneffe was awarded the French Legion of Honor medal and became the oldest person to row in the Royal Henley Regatta at age 92—an event that reprised his 1946 victory at Henley as a member of the King’s College Boat Club.
A Part of McLean’s History
An extraordinary man, de Marneffe has been a McLean fixture since January 1953, when he came to the hospital as a second-year resident. His intelligence, compassion, and operational acuity enabled a rapid rise in hospital hierarchy, and in 1960, he was appointed assistant to Hospital Director and Psychiatrist in Chief Alfred Stanton, MD.
Two years later, at the young age of 38, de Marneffe ascended to the top spot and served as McLean’s general director from 1962 to 1987, a role he loved despite the inevitable challenges faced along the way.
“There is something about the dedication of the people who work at McLean … a feeling of being special, but not in an arrogant way,” mused de Marneffe. “It’s about their passion and sense of duty. It feels as though doing whatever they can to help others is part of their DNA.”
Philanthropically, McLean has been de Marneffe’s top priority for more than half a century. He is forthright when he recounts how he knew nothing about fundraising when he began his tenure at McLean’s helm. But de Marneffe was passionate about the need to bolster McLean’s research efforts and determined to recruit renowned neuroscientist Seymour Kety to the hospital. Kety was among the first researchers to identify a genetic factor in schizophrenia and psychosis by studying identical twins raised in different families.
But the hospital did not have adequate laboratory space to accommodate Kety and his team, so de Marneffe got a crash course in fundraising, hopped on a plane to New York, and convinced the late Joseph Mailman to personally fund one-third of a $3 million capital effort and recruit four of his friends to compose another third. The Mailman Research Center was built, and McLean accelerated on its path to becoming the robust research enterprise it is today.
“I had never asked anyone for a gift before and was given some strict instructions before leaving,” remembered de Marneffe. “I tried to keep to my script, but the conversation wasn’t going as planned. I learned that day that I needed to be flexible and understand what Mr. Mailman wanted from the meeting—not just what McLean needed.”