Dr. Robert Benedetti has compiled a career full of landmark accomplishments in the field of psychology. Many successes have defined his life’s journey, which is built on his childhood in the Clintonville community. Benedetti was recognized this year as the 2011 Alumnus Honoris Award recipient.
Benedetti, son of John and Rosalyn Bennett, was born in Clintonville along with his late brother Tom. Brothers Dick and Jack were born in Pittsburgh. Benedetti elected to reclaim his family’s original name after studying abroad in Bologna, Italy.
“Our name was Anglo-sized when our family came to the United States in order to assimilate easier into the culture. So, we went from Benedetti to Bennett,” explained Benedetti. “I chose to reclaim the original family name prior to earning my doctorate degree, and my family was very supportive. My father was rather proud-it was his family name.
“I was really moved to find that I had been chosen to receive the Alumnus Honoris Award. It’s such a nice honor. It has brought back a wonderful flood of memories-I have so many memories of Clintonville,” said Benedetti as he prepared to give the Alumnus Honoris address at the 2011 Clintonville High School Commencement Ceremony on Friday, June 10. “I remember St. Rose Catholic School and the nuns who truly cared for us and loved us. I remember the outdoor pool-I used to teach lessons there and I remember when it opened when I was just a child. I can recall going to junior high for grades eight and nine, and then on to the old high school for grades 10, 11 and 12.
“I also remember many of my teachers, including Joan Paulson, Dennis Bessette, Craig Akey, Mr. “Moose” Hansen, Mr. Rasmussen, Joan Finnegan, and Jane Billing, the librarian. These are fine people who really cared about students. I also have many memories of my classmates, including Nance Williamson, Karen Oberhauser, Jeff Rosenow, Daniel and Douglas Olk, and Amy Oberhauser.”
While Jack and Dick Bennett have staked their claim to fame through stellar education and coaching careers, Robert and Tom pursued and attained the same notoriety in their fields of medicine.
In high school, Benedetti competed on the swim team, but said he was more involved in debate and forensics.
“There were so many opportunities growing up in Clintonville,” commented Benedetti. “Even though it’s a smaller town, we still had teachers who were dedicated to academic and cultural education. We went to plays in other cities, and I can remember the New York/Washington, D.C. trip. The Honors Reading program opened the world to us. The debate team was formed during my first year in high school, under the direction of Mr. Jerry McGinley. I also participated in Forensics and so many other activities that helped us build confidence and feel a sense of grounding for the things we eventually would develop into in our careers and other areas of life.”
As a high school student, he developed a keen interest in psychology.
“I wanted to know how humans functioned and developed psychologically,” stated Benedetti. “I wanted to help people. I was trying to find ways to do that, and eventually I became very interested in mental health diagnosis and treatment for individuals and people in relationships.”
Robert’s brother Tom, whom he was very close to growing up, went on to attend medical school and practiced at Boston City Hospital in Boston, Mass. Tom became HIV positive and died in 1996 after living with AIDS for over six years.
“When HIV/AIDS first came on the scene, it was a death sentence,” Benedetti said, pausing to maintain his composure as he recalled his brother’s life and career that were cut short by the disease. “I’ve worked with seasoned psychologists to help men who were dying of this disease. Treatments and medications were so different 15 years ago. Now, AIDS has become more of a chronic illness rather than a death sentence. The improvements in medical treatment and care for HIV/AIDS patients have been very dramatic.”
Benedetti said treatment for mental disorders have improved as well, along with societal changes concerning how the mentally ill are viewed and treated. “As we live with them, we are able to help them have more normalized lives,” commented Benedetti.
Currently, Benedetti is Director of Clinical Operations at St. Elizabeth’s in Washington, D.C., where he and his staff treat and evaluate people referred by the court system. His staff is responsible for evaluating and making decisions on people who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity or criminally insane. The hospital has 282 inpatients, 100 outpatients and Benedetti said he and his staff evaluate another 1,000 people per year. In his spare time, Benedetti also serves as an adjunct professor at Georgetown. He also enjoys travel, theatre, film, music, and spending time with friends.
In retrospect, Benedetti said his life and career path wouldn’t have been what it is without the childhood foundation of life in Clintonville.
“I have these fond memories of a simpler, kinder time,” Benedetti said. “Living in Washington, D.C. is so different than growing up in a small town where people know and care for each other. When you’re raised in a small town, you don’t have to learn how to create the ‘sense of community’ that everyone talks about-it’s just who you are. That sense of stability carries with you.
“Clintonville did a good job of preparing me for my life and career,” concluded Benedetti. “I feel pretty fortunate to have been raised here.”