Robert H. Putnam

Robert H. Putnam supported many political, charitable and educational organizations in the Sacramento region and beyond, both during his life and after his passing.

A surprise gift to help millions UC Davis received $2.6 million from the late Robert H. Putnam to further understanding of bipolar disorders.

UC Davis Health and its Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences have received a $2.6 million gift from the estate of the late Robert H. Putnam to help further research on bipolar disorders, conditions that cause suffering for millions of people worldwide.

The June gift establishes the Robert H. Putnam Endowed Chair in Bipolar Disorders Research and also the Dwight Swaback, M.D. Bipolar Disorders Research Fund, named after a retired Sacramento-area psychiatrist who was highly respected by Putnam and began his career in partnership with UC Davis.

“We’re grateful to Robert Putnam for this important gift, which will help UC Davis lead advances in the understanding of the causes and treatments for bipolar disorders, and also expand our research excellence about other illnesses,” said Robert Hales, M.D., a distinguished professor and the Joe P. Tupin Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UC Davis.

While as many as two in every 100 people has a bipolar illness — formerly called manic depression — Hales explained that studying them is also impactful because they frequently occur in people who suffer from other illnesses, such as anxiety disorders and substance abuse disorders. While researching one type of illness, UC Davis Health will gain insight into several others.

To maximize this ripple effect, the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences plans to use $2 million of Putnam’s gift to establish the endowed chair position to be filled by a child psychiatrist with expertise in bipolar disorders. The position will partner with UC Davis investigators who study related disorders.

With the remaining funds, the Dwight Swaback, M.D., Bipolar Disorders Research Fund will support pilot studies in bipolar research for early-career investigators.

“There is a stigma in our society about being treated by psychiatrists,” Hales said. “But Putnam’s gift makes a point that, just like when you see a doctor for a physical illness, treatment can make a real difference in a person’s life and mental health. And with this gift, we will be able to help people even more.”

A supporter of education and research in Sacramento and beyond

Robert “Bob” Putnam grew up around St. Paul, Minnesota and studied political science and art at the University of Minnesota. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1968, he served in the U.S. Army Reserves until 1970.

He moved to Sacramento shortly afterwards for the climate and career opportunities, working for the state of California and other employers and enjoying political and cultural activities. He also loved the redwoods and the Northern California coast, and purchased property for a dream home in Crescent City.

Putnam was a committed and generous supporter of many political, charitable and educational organizations both during and after his life, making substantial gifts through his trust to both national organizations and local causes such as the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento City College Art Department and Sacramento SPCA.

Helping people live happier lives

During a 1999 tour of the UC Davis Health campus and its psychiatry science department, Putnam had indicated a desire to make a financial contribution to the field of psychiatry, but didn’t provide details about the size or recipient. The surprise and gratitude for his recent gift now extends well beyond UC Davis.

When the university’s planned giving office first notified Swaback about the gift, he was so shocked that he thought it might be a prank call.

“I am deeply honored that this fund will be created in my name,” he said, “particularly because it is going to be used for bipolar disorders, which was a big part of my practice and affects millions of people around the world,” he said.

Shortly after completing his residency at the University of Colorado in 1969, Swaback was recruited to Sacramento by Donald Langsley, founding chair of UC Davis’ department of psychiatry. Swaback then served as a psychiatrist in organizations that worked in partnership with UC Davis Health, such as South Area Community Mental Health Service and Central California Psychiatric Society, as well as in private practice and managerial roles. He stayed in touch with the university through seminars and other professional meetings.

After retiring six times, Swaback decided to stick with it last year. When he looks back on his long career, he feels pleased he could help hundreds of people live happier lives — a tradition that he hopes Putnam’s legacy will continue.

“Gifts like this one are so important in helping people,” he said. “Because as treatments become more and more effective, and word gets around about the effectiveness of treatment, people will be more inclined to make use of the help that is available. And they will live better lives because of it.”

For more information about giving to the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, please contact Jennifer Scott at the UC Davis philanthropy office at: 530-752-5304 or