You are here

Inspired by a daughter, in honor of a mother and father

Driven by a shared interest in anxiety disorders, two trustees jointly endow a new professorship
Posted May 12, 2014
Trustees Chris Hoehn-Saric and Charlie Scheeler at the April 2014 dedication of the professorship honoring the Hoehn-Saric family. IMAGE:  Rob Smith Trustees Chris Hoehn-Saric and Charlie Scheeler at the April 2014 dedication of the professorship honoring the Hoehn-Saric family. IMAGE: Rob Smith

When Charlie Scheeler first read his daughter's college admission essay, he felt proud and a little misty-eyed, as many fathers would. In this case, however, Cecelia Scheeler truly had written something special.

In her essay, she recounted — with grace and humor — her experience living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) since the age of four, describing how she survived the perils of middle school while battling uncontrollable tics and ultimately found confidence and self-assurance in high school.

The fall after she penned those touching words, Cecelia Scheeler was off to Oberlin College, but the essay's job was not yet done. Her story had reminded her father of all that she had accomplished, and the many ways she had benefited from receiving treatment at Johns Hopkins. He spoke to her mother, Mary Ellen Pease, about how they could make a bigger impact, and the couple decided that they'd like to establish an endowed chair that would focus on OCD research. Though they didn't know it yet, the essay would also help them find a partner in university trustee Chris Hoehn-Saric, someone who had his own personal connection to the field of anxiety disorders and who, in the way of Hopkins volunteer leaders, was eager to make a connection to help others.

"Cecelia has gotten wonderful professional help. That is what animates our whole efforts here at Hopkins," Scheeler says. "In the United States, only one in five children who need professional treatment for a mental health issue get the assistance they need. So Cecelia has been blessed to live in Baltimore, where she gets the best care in the world, and we’d like to see others in her situation get that same opportunity."

Scheeler is a senior counsel with DLA Piper, and Pease is a public education advocate and community activist.They are both dedicated volunteer leaders at the Johns Hopkins University, serving on the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Advisory Board. Scheeler is also a trustee for Johns Hopkins University, Medicine, and Health System. Over their years working with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, they have steadily deepened their involvement, their understanding, and their investment in its work. In addition to providing support through their philanthropy and their service, the couple and their families have donated their blood to help with a study on the genetic basis of OCD.

The professorship seemed like an exciting next step, but Scheeler was hoping to find someone to jointly fund the endowment.  When he began thinking about a logical partner with similar goals in mind, university trustee Chris Hoehn-Saric's name came to the forefront.

Hoehn-Saric is the former chairman of Sylvan Learning Systems and the current senior managing director of Sterling Partners. At the time, Scheeler was not yet a university trustee, and had met Hoehn-Saric on just a few brief occasions. As it happened, however, Scheeler's brother Donald had worked with him for years at Sylvan.

As for Hoehn-Saric's connection to the field — his father just happens to be Rudolf Hoehn-Saric, a professor emeritus in the Johns Hopkins Department of Psychiatry, the former head of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic, and an early pioneer in research on OCD and its related conditions. Chris's mother, Evanne Hoehn-Saric, an associate professor in the department, has long treated children and adolescents, including those with anxiety disorders, and has mentored many other child psychiatrists. If a new professorship was established, it could be named for the Hoehn-Sarics, a plan that appealed to Scheeler and Pease.

The concept was exciting: the son of two accomplished Hopkins professors and the parents of a patient coming together to forge a new path for cutting-edge research. With the help of his brother and the department, Scheeler reached out to Chris Hoehn-Saric. He also shared Cecelia's essay.

Touched by the idea of honoring his parents and moved by Cecelia's experience, Chris Hoehn-Saric agreed wholeheartedly to the collaboration. He and his wife, Pam Hoehn-Saric, invested half and Scheeler and Pease invested half toward the endowment of the professorship.

The Rudolf Hoehn-Saric, M.D. and Evanne Hoehn-Saric, M.D. Professorship in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Anxiety Disorder Research was officially installed on April 9, 2014. The recipient is Dr. Gerald Nestadt, an epidemiology geneticist who is director of the Johns Hopkins Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Program and a preeminent researcher in the field.

"Like Rudolf, Gerry has been involved in research for decades, and he’s the perfect person to lead the way toward more discovery and making life a little better for people who suffer from this disorder," Charlie Scheeler says.  "I would hope that we can translate our understanding into improved interventions, medications, and behavioral therapies."

While her parents look forward to future advances in research and treatment, Cecelia Scheeler (now a junior political science major) is also hopeful that the professorship will raise awareness and increase understanding of what it really means to have OCD. The groundbreaking Hoehn-Saric Professorship, made possible by such a special partnership, helps ensure that all of these goals are within reach.