What is Life?
Reprinted from The Trinity Reporter, with permission from Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. Trinity Reporter Spring 2013
Robert Moran was enchanted. “I was sitting in an auditorium with my parents during orientation,” he remembers, “and the dean of faculty, Dr. Andrew De Rocco, was speaking. He was using Latin phrases. I thought, ‘I want to be able to speak like that.’”
When Moran enrolled in Trinity College, in the autumn of 1981, he was signing up for an adventure. He was that rare first-year student who arrived with some sense of what he wanted to do with his life. In high school he had excelled in science classes, especially biology, and he was pretty certain he would pursue a career in medicine. Yet, he was circumspect enough o want more. What he intended to extract from Trinity, he will quickly tell you, was “an education, not a vocation.”
A biochemistry major, Moran hailed from Killingly, an off-thebeaten- path town tucked into the forest shadows of what’s often referred to as Connecticut’s “quiet corner.” Raised on a 60- acre dairy farm where his parents—a truck driver and millworker, neither of whom had graduated from high school—taught him the value of hard work, he was a bright and enthusiastic student. But life in Killingly had been rather insular. At the dawn of his undergraduate experience, even prosaic experiences like learning how to use municipal transportation to get from Frog Hollow to downtown Hartford were opportunities to grow. Moran was determined that his Trinity education would extend well beyond the classroom. Over the next four years he planned to make the most of his liberal arts education. As though to validate this plan, Moran was delighted to encounter a familiar text when he attended the
initial class of his firstyear biology course. It was Helena Curtis’ Biology, with its plain gray cover and red text belying the praise Nobel Laureate Salvador Luria heaped on it in Scientific American when it was published in 1968. It was the book Moran had used during his AP honors biology class in high school. But when he opened it that day, Curtis’ elegantly simple opening sentence spoke to him in a new way. “What,” the author asked her young reader, “is life?”
Becoming a psychiatrist
Moran devoted himself, over the next four years, to answering Helena Curtis’ question. He was involved with Cinestudio and Christian Fellowship, played alto sax in the jazz band, served as president of Pi Kappa Alpha,
and earned teaching assistantships in several disciplines. At the same time, he so excelled at his coursework that he was twice awarded the prestigious Thomas Holland Scholarship— presented to sophomores, juniors, and seniors who attained the highest academic rank the previous year—and also earned the biochemistry fellowship. Class salutatorian, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. And he mastered Latin.
“My Trinity experience was remarkable,” says Moran, now chief executive officer and medical director of Wellington Retreat, a nationally recognized addiction treatment center in West Palm Beach, Florida. “I thoroughly enjoyed the small classes and the close interaction with faculty. I was exposed to people with a tremendous range of life experiences, and I was transformed completely.”
Though he contemplated, for a time, earning a Ph.D. in biology or chemistry, in the end his first inclination prevailed. In August 1985, two months after graduating, he enrolled in the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, where he was awarded the Dr. Morris B. Bender Award for Excellence in the Neurosciences.
During the second half of his first year, he opted to work in a geriatric psychiatry clinic to fulfill an elective requirement. It was there that he learned how to analyze the progress of neurological disease, and his interest in neuroanatomy was sparked. In his second year of medical school he pursued that interest with a full year of laboratory work. “I was leaning strongly toward psychiatry as a specialty,” he says, “but I kept an open mind.”
As a resident at the New York Presbyterian Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, where he received the award for best senior resident-research, he was assistant unit chief for an inpatient unit as well as assistant supervisor of
the Outpatient Anxiety Disorder Clinic at the hospital’s Westchester division. In 1994, after completing his residency, he helped launch the Putnam Hospital Center Partial Hospitalization Program in Carmel, New York, serving as its medical director. Simultaneously, he was medical director of the Carmel Psychological Chemical Dependency Program.
“It was a wonderful experience,” he declares. “The partial hospital program was a whole new chapter in psych services, and my experience there exposed me to a whole new population. I treated patients in the acute inpatient unit, but I was also consulting at the detoxification unit, and I was learning a lot more about addiction.”
In 1997, Moran was certified in addiction psychiatry, a whole new discipline, in which research was blossoming. Not only was it becoming a well-established subspecialty, but Moran found himself strongly drawn to it, after testing a lot of other waters.
After serving as chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Putnam Hospital Center for the balance of the 1990s, he returned to Manhattan in 2000, developing a private practice and accepting a teaching post at the Cornell Medical Center. Though he treated patients with a wide range of psychiatric problems, addiction was always part of his practice, and he expected it to remain a major focus of his work when he and his partner, also an established physician, relocated to Florida in 2007.
What he discovered, however, was not quite the health-care landscape he’d expected. “There are well over a hundred addiction treatment programs in Palm Beach County,” he says, “but most of them are operated by people
without a medical degree. Often they are people who are in recovery from addiction and see a treatment program as a business opportunity.”
So, in 2010 Moran launched Wellington Retreat, the only addiction treatment center in Palm Beach County run by a physician. Moran’s approach to treatment is grounded in the fact that addiction cannot be treated without clearly understanding and addressing its underlying cause. While each case is, of course, unique, many addicts suffer from related psychiatric problems which, for lack of better service, they attempt to treat with self-medication. At Wellington Retreat, Moran oversees the diagnosis and treatment of each patient.
“Our purpose,” he says, “is not to simply treat an illness. Our aim is to give people an opportunity for a whole new life, something addiction treatment has seldom done in the past.”
Driven by Moran’s protean energy and his conviction that his treatment model is the right one, Wellington
Retreat has expanded dramatically in the past two years. Last summer, recognizing that recovering addicts often need a stable place to work and learn solid life-management skills, he opened Moran’s Italian Burger Bistro
near the center. Everyone who works there is a recovering addict or a psychiatric patient. This year, Wellington Retreat acquired a working hotel, which is being remodeled to house the company’s offices as well as both residential and outpatient treatment facilities. And an abandoned Thai restaurant, which has been completely onverted, is Moran’s Catering, a freestanding operation, distinct from the restaurant.
Though his career has occupied much of his attention for the past two decades, Trinity has never been far from Moran’s thoughts. “I was transformed by my education at Trinity,” he says. “It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I always wanted to do something to express my gratitude.”
Last year he endowed the Dr. Robert A. Moran ’85 Scholarship, which is awarded on an annual basis to students in the sophomore, junior, and senior classes who have attained the highest academic rank during the previous year. They are, as he once was, bright young people determined to get the most from their Trinity education, students who are bent on finding out for themselves “what is life?”
“I was transformed by my education at Trinity. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life…”
Visitors to the Trinity Restaurant, especially those whose memories of Hartford go way back, may remember it as the former Timothy’s. Owner Natasha Agolli and her family have transformed the space into a stylish and comfortable restaurant that reflects the sophistication of the campus for which it was named. Diners will find a menu that can be described as a little bit Italian, a little bit Greek, and crafted with only fresh, highquality ingredients. Popular dishes include the lamb shank osso buco with creamy goat cheese polenta, butternut squash ravioli, and sea scallops with truffle mashed potatoes. Trinity Restaurant is located at 243 Zion Street in Hartford and is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. (860) 728-9822
Reprinted from The Trinity Reporter, with permission from Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut.