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Tuesday November 27, 2012

Raymond Harold Prince

Transcultural psychiatrist, naturalist, father. Born Sept. 27, 1925, in Barrie, Ont., died May 12, 2012, in St-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que., of a heart attack, aged 86.

In 1958, my father was given a rare opportunity. Secretly, because sorcery was illegal, he met with the head witch in Abeokuta, Nigeria.

The crone offered him soup, purportedly containing human flesh, to guarantee three things in life: professional success, fecundity and health. Dad balked at paying £30 for the awful brew, but it turned out he didn't need it.

Raymond Harold Prince was a pioneer in transcultural psychiatry who fathered 10 children and was never sick a day in his life.

Born in Barrie, Ont., one of five children, Ray was fascinated by birds, trees and flowers, and could identify them all.

At 17 he joined the RCAF, but never saw active duty. Post-war, he moved to London, Ont., and studied psychiatry at the University of Western Ontario.

He experimented with the LSD supplied by the Swiss Sandoz Company. While running a rooming house full of artists, scientists and musicians, he threw many infamous parties.

An atheist, Ray sought to escape his Baptist upbringing, though oddly he spent his life studying religious experience. That was what took us to Nigeria, for two years. His stint studying how the Yoruba people treat mental illness was funded by an organization proved later to have been a front for the Central Intelligence Agency, which was interested in mind control at the time.

We later spent two years in Jamaica, where Ray studied the Rastafarians. While he loved travelling, my mother, Grace, did not, and she was happy when they settled in Montreal.

Ray was not used to failure, but both his marriages ended in divorce. His first, to Denise, gave him three children but was short lived. His second, to Grace, lasted 20 years and they had seven kids.

His life was his work. He was a professor at McGill University and an exceptional psychiatrist. His patients loved him for his loyalty and unpretentious treatment. Great tribute was paid to him by his Cree patients in Northern Quebec, who declared he was one of two Western doctors who ever understood them.

He loved "the land" - our country place - where he had his Thoreau experience. There was no electricity, but the 100 acres of forest were paradise, and it was there that Ray instilled in his children a knowledge and respect for the natural world.

Ray believed you should try everything once. At the crack of dawn one day, we woke up at the land to find him spoon-feeding coffee and offering his pipe to our toddlers.

Dad travelled the world and his prized possession was his library of 5,000 books, organized from the beginning of time.

He found his life partner in Françoise, with whom he spent his last 30 years.

Ray died unexpectedly while my family was away at the land. That afternoon, an owl flew into a clearing where I was walking. It perched and looked directly at me. It was a great grey owl, and I like to think it was a sign from Dad because he was a lot like that intelligent, handsome, very rare bird.

Susannah Prince is Ray's daughter.

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