Professor Richard Welsh’s desire to help Kentucky families propelled a decades-long career in health care and academia at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and UK HealthCare. After nearly 52 years of service, Welsh, LCSW, MSW, has made official plans to retire.

To Welsh, the decision to say goodbye was a difficult one. He garnered a wealth of expertise in treating disruptive behavior disorders and made a tremendous impact as a professor, holding joint appointments in the UK College of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and the UK College of Social Work.

But just as the lyrics say in “The Gambler,” one of his favorite songs by Kenny Rogers, “You’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away.” Welsh officially will retire April 2021.

“I think one of the reasons I stayed as long as I did is because I love my work. I love coming to work. I love the families I work with,” Welsh said.

During the course of his career, Welsh made significant contributions to his field. He worked with colleagues to develop a manual for teachers about classroom management of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a publication that was disseminated to schools across Kentucky. In 1999, he served as visiting professor at an international school in Japan, with the opportunity to teach students of its graduate program about ADHD. He also created an eight-week training program, adapted from internationally recognized clinical psychologist Russell Barkley, instructing parents on how to manage noncompliant children and providing strategies on how to manage behavior.

Over time, he has learned that nobody trains to be a parent, and he enjoyed assisting new parents through the difficulties that arose on their journeys.

“You have to have a license to drive a car. You have to have training to get degrees, but you don’t have to have a license to be a parent,” Welsh said. “Many parents come in overwhelmed and unsure of what to do when they’re raising an oppositional noncompliant child.”

Welsh’s work is special to him. Growing up with a stutter, he attended speech therapy for 12 years and said he owed “everything” to his speech therapist. His experience allowed him to build empathy for those who have struggled with similar challenges. It drove him to pursue a career where he could provide quality care to families. 

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Hope College in Holland, Mich., and a master’s degree from the University of Iowa, Welsh joined the UK College of Medicine in 1968, going off of recommendations from friends about the campus being a great place to work.

Nearly 52 years later, Welsh has built a prideworthy career. He has received five awards from UK recognizing his achievements as a faculty member: Department of Psychiatry Teacher of the Year (1990), the Department of Psychiatry Child and Adolescent Residency Outstanding Teacher Award (2001, 2004), the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Resident Outstanding Supervisor Award (2009), and the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Resident Outstanding Teaching Award (2012).

“Richard Welsh’s impact on the department of psychiatry is unmatched,” Seth Himelhoch, MD, MPH, chair of psychiatry, said. “We are incredibly grateful for his decades of service providing compassionate care to children and their families, as well as the excellent mentorship, supervision, and training he has provided to generations of psychiatrists and social workers. His impact will truly be long-lasting.”

Along with a love for teaching, what he finds most rewarding about his career – and why he had such difficulty officially retiring – is knowing he made a difference for families.

“I think the greatest compliment is to be told by a patient or by a family, ‘Thank you. You’ve saved my family,’” Welsh said.

The UK College of Medicine would like to thank Welsh for his contributions. We will miss his presence on campus, but his impact will remain present indefinitely in his department and through the college. We congratulate him for an outstanding career and wish him well in his next chapter.