Herb Isaac Kutchins, 88, a native of Chicago, Illinois, resident of West Marin for over four decades, died at home on Thursday, September 7th, from complications related to Parkinson’s Disease and sepsis.
In his final hours he recited from one of his favorite Wallace Stevens’ poems and then declared, “I am the Emperor of Ice Cream!”
Herb spent his childhood and adolescence in Chicago, living in an apartment on Palmer Square with his parents, Ann (Paletz) and Ben Kutchins, and his younger brothers, Stuart, and Albert.
Herb graduated high school in 1952 and entered the University of Chicago at 17. Placing out of the freshman year curriculum, he graduated with a B.A. three years later. Soon he was drafted and, after working on a psych ward at Fort Bragg, his career in social work became a clear path.
After discharge from the Army, Herb moved to New York, worked at Limelight Books on McDougal Street in Greenwich Village, and then as a psychiatric social worker on Riker’s Island.
He moved to San Francisco in the 1960’s and enrolled in the School of Social Work at UC Berkeley, where he ultimately earned his MSW and PhD degrees. He worked as a case worker for the San Francisco Welfare Department; then later as Director of a Neighborhood Youth Corps Program. Working under the auspices of the SF Bar Association, he helped design and launch the innovative “OR Bail Project.” This highly successful program that released low-risk arrestees without bail, has been a model for pre-trial detention alternatives across the country.
During this period, Herb’s daughter Po was born. He adored and was immensely proud of her successful career as a filmmaker. On her frequent visits to West Marin, the two could often be seen walking together on the Wetlands trail in Point Reyes Station.
Herb went on to teach Social Work, with an emphasis on criminal justice, at Sonoma State College and then the University of Hawaii. On returning to California, Herb and his wife, Gina, moved to Sacramento where he was a Professor of Social Work at California State University until his retirement in 2002.
In 1980, Herb and Gina moved to West Marin, a perfect fit with its rustic beauty and like-minded denizens. They lived in Inverness Park for 43 years in a home designed for them by local architect, Alex Riley.
In the years that followed, Gina and Herb spent summers restoring habitat and building trails in National Parks as volunteers with the Sierra Club’s Service Program. The couple travelled extensively in Africa, Europe and Asia and spent many holidays in Sayulita, Mexico establishing lasting relationships with locals.
Perhaps Herb’s most memorable adventure was climbing Mt. Fuji. When he was within striking distance of the top the iconic mountain was shrouded in fog—just like a Hokusai print—and he could go no further. For the rest of his life, he wondered if he had achieved his goal to reach the top.
In 1992, Herb co-authored, “The Selling of DSM”, a scholarly critique of the flawed methodology of the psychiatry profession that had created the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual for Psychiatric Diagnosis (DSM), exposing it as a tool of the insurance companies for dispensing or withholding benefits based on a diagnosis. In 1995, Herb and his collaborator received a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation to be resident scholars at the Villa Serbelloni, the Center headquarters in Bellagio, Italy, where they completed a version of their book for non-academic audiences, titled “Making us Crazy.” It exposed the capricious and biased labeling of mental health issues in DSM. Gina and Herb spent a month at the Villa with 20 other scholars and artists from around the world. The book was named “The Book of the Year” in 2000 by Mind, the prestigious British organization that honors “writing that heightens understanding of mental health issues in their forms.”
Beamed from local radio station, KWMR, Herb’s show, “Politics 101”, covered topical issues in interviews with local politicians and other policy makers. His well-researched, probing questions brought him acclaim from loyal listeners. In guest articles he wrote for the Point Reyes Light he sought to equitably cover controversial issues. One of his most noteworthy guest columns was a report of a visit he made to Palestine in 2008 with fellow academic, David Miller. The trip was an effort by the men, both Jewish, to promote better relations between Israel and Palestine by creating “peace” murals to replace angry graffiti that defaced walls separating the ethnic villages.
Herb was a brilliant and funny scholar and a tough guy who loved his family. From the Hebrew: “May his memory be a blessing.”
In lieu of flowers, our family asks that you consider making a gift in memory of Herb by sending a check to the G. David Miller Fund to Support International Community Economic Development, UC Davis Foundation, 202 Cousteau Place, Ste. 185, Davis, CA 95618.
Herb is survived by his wife, Gina, daughter, Po, stepson, Kal (Sandy) and younger brothers, Stuart (Carrie), and Albert (Mari), treasured grandchildren, Darwin, Ben, and Lucy, Cathy Lombardi, niece and primary caregiver, and many other beloved nieces and nephews and numerous extended family members, all cherished by Herb.