Almanac

News - August 13, 2014

Obituary: Dr. William Fry, advocate of humor for health

Dr. William Finley Fry Jr., an emeritus associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and a Portola Valley resident for about 25 years, died May 16 at his home in Nevada City, California.

Dr. Fry moved to Nevada City in the 1980s with his wife, Almanac co-founder Elizabeth "Betty" Fry," said Stephen Fry, the couple's son.

Dr. Fry was 90. Ms. Fry died in 2011 at the age of 85.

Dr. Fry was known for his lifelong investigation into the health benefits of laughter. In a 1979 paper, "Using Humor to Save Lives," he discussed humor's positive effects on three life-threatening illnesses: heart attack, stroke and cancer, the latter for which humor could act as a palliative.

Among his many papers on the subject and several books is "Sweet Madness: A Study of Humor," first published in 1963 and republished in 2010 by Transaction Publishers. Included on the back of a card celebrating Dr. Fry's life is a drawing of a harlequin above a joke: "How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but only if the light bulb wants to be changed."

In addition to his work at Stanford, Dr. Fry had a private practice "where he combined a consistent professionalism with an appreciation for the individual experience of each patient," the celebratory card says. "Life ran rampant in his nature, his manner, his activities and his thinking. There was vibrancy, enthusiasm, (and) curiosity."

The couple liked to travel and had many friends around the world. Dr. Fry was lauded as a friend, scientist, wine enthusiast, historian and patriarch.

He is survived by his daughter Susan Fry Van-Rheenen in Nevada City; and sons Stephen in Nevada City and Peter in Corbett, Oregon.

In his memory, his friends suggest enjoying your meals slowly and laughing often.

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