In Memoriam: Jeree H. Pawl, PhD


The UCSF Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences mourns the passing and celebrates the life of Dr. Jeree H. Pawl, who passed away peacefully on November 19, 2021.

Professor Pawl was a visionary who shaped the field of infant and early childhood mental health. She came to UCSF in 1979, along with world-renowned social worker and psychoanalyst Selma Fraiberg, to establish the Infant-Parent Program at San Francisco General Hospital. Professor Pawl assumed the directorship of the Infant-Parent Program in 1981 and shepherded the program until her retirement in 1999. She joined early in its formation—and later served as President of the Board of—ZERO TO THREE: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, which celebrated her legendary contributions to the field in 2019 with the Zero-To-Three Lifetime Achievement Award

Professor Pawl’s was a powerful and entirely unique voice, and the global field of infant mental health would have a different tenor today had it not been for the notes she struck. Her widely quoted adage, “How you are is as important as what you do,” accounts for the depth and magnitude of her professional contributions; whatever she undertook, she committed to with humility, fierce dedication, and unflinching recognition of the implications for infants, parents and caregivers, and society.

Professor Pawl delighted in human diversity and weighed it in every decision she made—challenging dominant frames of reference, critically examining inherited “truths” and trending “best practices,” and refusing to disregard the experiences of marginalized stakeholders. She helped judges and protective service workers to deepen empathy for parents and children concurrently, and to feel the ticking of the clock in developmental time rather than according to court calendars. She insisted that the critical child-rearing contributions of early care and education providers be recognized, respected, and factored into both understandings of who children are and also city budgets. She enjoined providers across disciplines to identify with the field of infant mental health and to share resources and perspectives generously, efficiently, and creatively on behalf of families. Through her writing, presenting, teaching, training, consultation and supervision, Dr. Pawl mentored and inspired thousands of interdisciplinary professionals, seeding the field and inspiring programs and policies regionally, nationally, and around the world. Whatever our role and position, Professor Pawl taught us all to think in terms of identifying and removing interferences to infants’ and toddlers’ powerful capacities to contribute to relationships and to thrive.

Dr. Pawl’s legacy is carried on in many policies, practices, and contexts, including infant-parent psychotherapy and early childhood mental health consultation, the national organization ZERO TO THREE, and the UCSF Infant-Parent Program, a nationally recognized clinical and training program endorsed by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Health Services Administration through the Center of Excellence for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation.

Dr. Pawl is survived by her devoted partner, Dr. Judith Pekarsky, who also served in and retired from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, as well as daughters Amy Pawl and Meg Johnson, and four grandchildren.

Those who wish to make a contribution to the Infant-Parent Program’s newly established Jeree H. Pawl Memorial Fund for infant and early childhood mental health training and workforce development may do so online at

[Video courtesy ZERO TO THREE]