Professor was pioneering force in psychiatric field

Amy Olson

Burtrum C. Schiele, psychiatry professor emeritus, was known for using more than just psychoanalysis to help his patients.
In a time when mental illness was just beginning to be recognized as a legitimate medical discipline, Schiele began using prescription drugs to control his patients’ symptoms and conducting research to test the effectiveness of new medications.
“He was really one of the founding fathers of psychopharmacology,” said psychiatry department head Paula Clayton.
Schiele, who retired from the Medical School in 1973, died of pneumonia on Monday evening following a massive stroke. He was 94.
Born in 1904 in Colorado Springs, Colo., Schiele earned his medical degree from the University of Denver in 1931 before coming to St. Paul, where he interned at Ancker Hospital.
Schiele studied psychiatry in Colorado and New York before joining the University’s Medical School faculty in 1937. As a specialist in neurology and psychiatry, he became interested in using medications to treat both mild and severe mental illnesses.
At that time, most doctors were only beginning to understand that mental illness had a biological basis, said Sheldon Sparber, a professor of pharmacology, psychiatry and psychology.
Schiele was one of the first doctors to receive a grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health to conduct research and wrote extensively until he retired.
But he never truly retired, said his daughter, Linda Schulte-Sasse. Throughout his career, he consulted with the Food and Drug Administration and continued his research at hospitals at the University, St. Paul Ramsey and St. Cloud Veteran’s Administration.
Schiele was an avid hunter and fisherman; later in his life, he became a skilled amateur photographer. A student remarked once that his slide shows were National Geographic-like, Schulte-Sasse said.
With his interest in nature and the outdoors, Schiele was “the old man of the mountains,” to his family, his daughter said.
Although Schiele believed in using scientific methods, he had a good sense of humor. Schulte-Sasse said her father conducted “double-blind trials” at family dinner by serving both expensive and inexpensive brands of wine and then making his family guess which was which.
“He always had a smile on his face like a cat who’d just eaten a mouse,” Sparber said.
Schiele is survived by his wife, Evelyn, daughters Schulte-Sasse and Gretchen Schiele Maynes of Maryland, and son, Charles, of Knoxville, Tenn., and six grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. on Feb. 13 at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis.