Don (DJ) Jaffe, an Edgemont High School (EHS) alumnus (class of 1972) died at his home in Harlem, New York, on Aug. 23, after a 15-year struggle with leukemia. He was 65 years old.
Mr. Jaffe was a groundbreaker in both the advertising agency world and in the mental health advocacy arena. He relentlessly stood up for the underrepresented and for those who could not advocate for themselves, a sensitivity that began when he was a young man, according to his family.
Mr. Jaffe’s participation in human rights awareness began in high school. He participated in the anti-war protests of the early ’70’s. He proposed holding a forum at Seely Place School featuring Black Panther Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and attorney William Kunstler. After lively debate in the Edgemont community as to appropriateness, he convinced the school board to approve the forum.
After graduating from EHS, Mr. Jaffe embarked on an 18-month hitchhiking trip across the U.S. When he returned, he enrolled at New York University and moved to Manhattan. He earned a master’s degree in accounting at NYU, then moved to Chicago to work at Coopers and Lybrand. While in Chicago, he met (and eventually married) Rose Wagner Jaffe. They were married for 30 years until Rose Jaffe died of cancer in 2018.
From Chicago, the couple moved to Manhattan, where Mr. Jaffe started a career in advertising and ascended to VP/creative director, writing hundreds of broadcast commercials for national advertisers while employed at New York City ad agencies Gotham Inc., SSC & B Lintas, Foote Cone & Belding, and Leo Burnett.
Mr. Jaffe’s life changed dramatically when he and his wife Rose Jaffe became caregivers for her mentally challenged sister in the mid-1980s. Horrified by the neglect of his sister-in-law by the mental health industry, he spent the next 30-plus years advocating for meaningful legislation and funding for the most seriously mentally ill. As a nationally respected spokesperson for that population, Mr. Jaffe spoke at the White House and before the U.S. Congress on many occasions. He wrote hundreds of opinion articles for print media, was a regular contributor on podcasts, and frequently appeared on national news broadcasts.
In 2017, Mr. Jaffe authored “Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill.” The “groundbreaking” book immediately became a “must read” for mental health policy leaders, his family said, and is now in its third printing.
Mr. Jaffe was instrumental in the passage of the national Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2016, and he authored and worked for the passage of Kendra’s Law in New York State in 1999. He received a fellowship at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and founded and headed the nonprofit mentalillnesspolicy.org. He also served on the board of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), co-founded Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) with E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., and hosted a TEDTalk© on mental illness.
A few days before his death, Mr. Jaffe married Paula Orndoff at his bedside at Mount Sinai Hospital — on a Zoom call with close friends and relatives listening in. His family said the couple’s 18-month life together was brief, and they were inseparable from the start.
Mr. Jaffe is survived by his wife Paula Orndoff-Jaffe and his brothers Jay Jaffe of Texas (EHS ’68) and Bob Jaffe of Manhattan (EHS ’73); and many nieces, cousins, friends and colleagues. He was predeceased by his parents Saul and Phyllis Jaffe of Edgemont.
In honor of Mr. Jaffe, Barbara and E. Fuller Torrey (his mentor) have endowed an advocacy position at Treatment Advocacy Center based in Virginia, to which contributions can be made online at https://bit.ly/2SwaiJX or by mail to Treatment Advocacy Center, 200 North Glebe Road, Arlington, VA 22203.