At age 18, Bernard Coelho began publishing photos in top national magazines in his native India — a noteworthy achievement for an experienced professional photographer, let alone a young man for whom photography was intended only to be a side gig.
Coelho went on to become a successful psychiatrist. That field, and his photography — as well as cooking, botany and other interests — reflected his commitment to excellence, according to his family.
“He hated mediocrity,” said his son, Barney, of Fridley. “One of his mottos was, you do something well or not at all.”
Coelho, 85, of Coon Rapids, died Jan. 1 of respiratory failure.
He was born in Kochi, India, and lived in India until 1972, when he moved to Minnesota with his first wife and three oldest children. Initially a general practitioner, he later specialized in psychiatry.
He went to work at the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center and at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, treating patients who were often severely mentally ill or even dangerous, said his daughter, neuropsychologist Sonia Mosch, of Edina.
“He had a lot of compassion for that, and I think this was a calling for him,” she said. “He’d say, ‘You can’t be upset with somebody’s behavior if they don’t have a full grasp of what they’re doing and don’t know better.’ ”
Coelho was known for his frequent use of a technique called electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), sometimes called electroshock therapy. The procedure sends small electric currents through the brain, triggering a brief seizure.
ECT is widely misunderstood, Mosch said; in movies and on TV, it’s sometimes portrayed as painful and scary. Some doctors worry it will cause memory impairments, she said. But done correctly on the right type of patient, it typically doesn’t cause permanent memory problems, Mosch said, is not painful (patients are under general anesthesia) and can help relieve major depression when other treatments don’t work.
ECT can transform people who “don’t want to get up in the morning into productive, happy individuals,” said Elaine Coelho, a registered nurse supervisor who worked with Coelho and married him in 1995 after he got divorced.
Coelho continued taking pictures for years, winning ribbons and shooting friends’ weddings. His family speculated that Coelho, an introvert, carried a camera so he wouldn’t have to dance and mingle. But he had a dry, funny wit and showered his family with love and attention.
“I don’t know of too many introverts that are so universally loved and that have touched so many people’s lives,” Barney Coelho said.
He also loved high-tech gadgets, riding his scooter, and music, his tastes ranging from rock to country and opera. He taught himself to cook elaborate Indian curries and served them to his family.
“Dad was very sentimental,” Barney said. “He wasn’t afraid to express how much we meant to him.”
That deep affection extended to his stepsons and grandchildren. Even so, when a couple of grandchildren took up photography, “As loving as dad was, he couldn’t bring himself to compliment a photo if it was mediocre,” Barney said. When his father offered praise, he said, “You knew that was a very well-deserved compliment.”
Besides his wife, son Barney and daughter Sonia, Coelho is survived by his daughters Tanya and Cindy, both of St. Paul; stepsons Justin Hudalla of St. Paul, Jason Hudalla of Bloomington and Jared Hudalla of Andover; and nine grandchildren. Services have been held.