If you were a troubled teen and John R. Stephens was your doctor, your
visits to him wouldn't necessarily take place in some boring office. You
might find yourself heading out with him for a burger, or to the mall or
even to a bowling alley.
When it came to his patients, the affable child psychiatrist believed
in going a bit beyond what was required of him.
Dr. Stephens, doctor to scores of youngsters who needed someone to help
them sort through their struggles, died July 20 at Stanford after a
brief battle with cancer. He was 59.
He was a big man with a big laugh who loved languages, crossword
puzzles and games of all sorts. He was the guy you'd want as your
``lifeline'' if you ever found yourself on ``Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire,'' his wife said.
Dr. Stephens started his child and adolescent psychiatry practice in
Palo Alto, where he lived with his family for nearly 40 years. But much
of his work was done in San Jose. He worked extensively with teen group
homes and most recently was associated with the Pacific Biobehavioral
Group in San Jose.
He never wore a tie to the office and instead preferred colorful sports
shirts. Prematurely gray by his 20s, his hair was totally white by his
40s and so his young patients often thought, upon first glance, that he
was really old.
But they soon realized how different he was from most adults, said Dr.
Allan Sidle, one of Dr. Stephens' closest friends. He would get
youngsters to open up by showing them he was genuinely interested in
everything about them.
He'd get right down on the floor and sit alongside his youngest
patients to talk to them. If his teenage patients asked him to attend a
track meet or a football game, he would go.
He'd keep up with the music they listened to -- hip-hop, grunge, heavy
metal. He'd even go to concerts for an up-close look at what his young
patients were excited about.
And very often, after his patients had grown up and the regular
appointments were long over, Dr. Stephens would receive an invitation to
a graduation or a wedding.
``A lot of therapists would say, `No, I'm glad you're getting married
but I don't make it a practice to do that,' '' Sidle said. But not Dr.
``He really wanted to validate that and share that with them -- how far
they had come in overcoming.''
His childhood in Detroit had been far different from his patients',
idyllic even, with afternoons spent at Boy Scout meetings and summers
spent water skiing on a lake.
He attended the University of Michigan and later transferred to
Stanford University. It was there that he met Stephanie Alexander, a
She first laid eyes on him at a party for medical school students. He
was tall and thin and cute, she thought. It wasn't until two parties
later that she managed to work up her courage and approach him.
He invited her to lunch the very next day. On their second date he sang
``Autumn Leaves'' to her in French. Two years later they married.
``I was crazy about him,'' Stephanie Stephens said of her husband of 37
years. ``I knew from Day One this is the type of guy you marry.''
His career took them to Washington, D.C., back to California, over to
Europe and then finally back to Palo Alto. This fall, he and his wife
were planning a trip to France. He had just renewed his passport when he
``I was so glad we got married as students and that he lived to see
four grandchildren,'' his wife said. ``We were just hoping to have more
good years ahead.''
Dr. John R. Stephens
Born: March 13, 1944
Died: July 20, 2003
Survived by: His wife, Stephanie; son, Gregory of Sacramento; daughter,
Cynthia Wilde of Redwood City; brother, Gary, and sister, Barbara Bell,
both of Michigan; and four grandchildren.
Services: Services will be held Friday at 1 p.m. at Menlo Park
Presbyterian Church, 950 Santa Cruz Ave.
Memorial: Contributions to the American Cancer Society or a favorite
charity are preferred.