Sir Cesare Santeramo and Sir Robert Campbell, MD
The Doctor and "The Director"
When Cesare Santeramo and Dr. Robert Campbell met for the first time at a garden party in 1968, there materialized— as Cesare describes it—“an instantaneous partnership.” Cesare was an AT&T professional by day and an opera tenor by night. Robert was a respected psychiatrist. The couple shared a love of the arts, and their social circles easily overlapped. Over their 52-year partnership, Cesare and Robert worked seamlessly together, forging many enduring professional and charitable associations, along with deep personal relationships. When Robert died in 2020 after battling a number of medical conditions for decades, calls came in from far and wide. “We have been blessed with family and friends all over the world,” Cesare explains.
Born in Newark, New Jersey, Cesare began singing in his church choir at six years old, helping to support his family by performing at weddings, funerals, and bar mitzvahs. He performed as a tenor soloist from age 13. Cesare was an early opera devotee, smitten from the time he saw his first performance at the Metropolitan Opera, “La Traviata,” starring renowned soprano Licia Albanese. He attended every Saturday performance thereafter, until he was drafted into the military. In the service, Cesare sang for two years with the Second Army Major Command Chorus, performing with opera star Risë Stevens at the White House and on The Ed Sullivan Show. Later, Cesare performed numerous roles with the Amato Opera Company and the New Jersey State Opera, including Alfredo opposite Madame Albanese in La Traviata. He adjudicated vocal competitions and worked privately with Madame Albanese and soprano Anna Moffo, also a close friend, in giving master classes.
Cesare describes his 32-year career at AT&T as “difficult—and exhilarating.” “The original party planner,” in his own words, he planned large-scale events for heads of state, Saudi princes, U.S. generals, and top AT&T executives. Out of admiration for his partner’s skill and many worldwide connections, Robert nicknamed Cesare “The Director.”
Robert came to New York from Wisconsin to attend medical school at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. His distinguished career included positions as Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Attending Psychiatrist at what is now NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center; Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine; Medical Director at Four Winds Hospital in Katonah, New York; Medical Director of Gracie Square Hospital; and a variety of positions at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Widely published, Robert is well known as the author of Campbell’s Psychiatric Dictionary, the preeminent dictionary of psychiatry. He updated each new edition himself. Among his other notable achievements was his service as Chair of the Nomenclature Committee of the American Psychiatric Association. In that role, he was instrumental in having the diagnosis of homosexuality removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973.
“My parents taught me that when you give, it will come back to you a hundredfold...”
A Shared Legacy
Robert and Cesare were a trailblazing couple. In their early years together, in 1970, they marched in the first Pride parade, in Stonewall’s wake. Many years later, they were the first same-sex couple married in Darien, Connecticut. Cesare “directed” with Robert countless celebrations for causes close to their hearts, at their homes and other storied locations, from a party at their townhouse for 400 guests of the American Psychiatric Association to Robert’s 50th birthday party on the roof of the St. Regis New York to a fundraiser attended by 250 people for the Opera Orchestra of New York, which supported young talent. The couple was active in many professional and cultural organizations. As a new board member of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, Cesare made a motion to change the name from the Puccini Foundation to honor his mentor and dear friend for her many years of service to young artists. Madame Albanese referred to Cesare as “my Alfredo,” referencing the role he played opposite her. Robert and Cesare were knighted under the Order of Malta, and both received the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest order. Through Helena Rubinstein, the couple became involved with the annual Bal Polonaise, a gala Cesare emceed for many years. Through this association, Robert and Cesare became acquainted with Princess Grace of Monaco, whom Cesare remembers as warm and lacking in pretense. At her request, they even hand-delivered a copy of Robert’s dictionary to her at her palace.
“Robert had great determination and willpower,” Cesare says. “When he set his mind to something, he did it.” Through Robert’s work as a clinician, educator, scholar, and advocate, he forever changed the face of psychiatry—and continues to improve the lives of patients, even today.
At 87, Cesare understands the importance of excellence in healthcare. Having dealt with his own difficult medical conditions, and with Robert’s, Cesare says he has found great skill and compassion in NewYork-Presbyterian doctors. He is happy to give back so that others may benefit from good health.
“My parents taught me that when you give, it will come back to you a hundredfold,” Cesare says. His and Robert’s lives are exemplars of that maxim. Their generosity has extended well beyond their circle of friends and loved ones. The couple has included a generous bequest promised through their estates to NewYork-Presbyterian. In recognition of their visionary gift, the inpatient psychiatric unit at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center bears Robert’s and Cesare’s names. In this way, their generosity of spirit lives on.