Dully, Howard 1948- (Howard August Dully)

views updated

Dully, Howard 1948- (Howard August Dully)


Born November 30, 1948, in Oakland, CA; son of Rodney Lloyd and June Louise Dully; married, c. 1996; wife's name Barbara: children: Rodney, Justin (stepson).


Home—San Jose, CA. E-mail—[email protected]


Trainer of school bus drivers.


(With Charles Fleming) My Lobotomy: A Memoir, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.


As a young child growing up in California, Howard Dully was typical in many ways. He was active and liked to play chess and ride his bicycle. Tragedy in his early life made him somewhat withdrawn and resistant to authority, as might be natural for a boy whose mother died when he was four years old giving birth to a son who would be mentally handicapped and whose father, a war veteran, was emotionally distant and physically abusive. When his father remarried, Dully's new stepmother, a divorcée with two children of her own, took an instant dislike to the boy. She insisted that young Dully must have psychological problems because he occasionally stole candy or other items of food from the kitchen cupboards and often adopted a sour attitude. She took her stepson to several psychiatrists who all insisted that he was a typical eleven-year-old. Then she located Dr. Walter Freeman. Freeman was famous for championing the lobotomy, making it a simple, ten-minute procedure that he performed on hundreds of patients for reasons ranging from schizophrenia to postpartum depression. He agreed to perform the procedure on young Howard, and Dully's father quickly gave his approval to his new wife when she threatened him with divorce if he did not consent. So, when Dully was just twelve years old, he became the youngest patient ever to have the procedure done, an operation that was completely unnecessary. Dully, with the assistance of journalist Charles Fleming, discusses the consequences of that fateful decision in his My Lobotomy: A Memoir.

The effects of lobotomies, which are now shunned universally by psychiatrists, were wide-ranging because the procedure was so imprecise. Freeman would take a device called a leucotome (originally, a common household ice pick was used), inserted it through the patient's tear ducts, and severed nerve connections in the frontal lobe. The desired effect was to change a patient's personality from aggressive and agitated to calm and pliant. In actuality, some patients were turned into living zombies; others were permanently crippled in other ways. Dully, however, is a rare exception in that he eventually became a productive member of society who is married, has children, and holds down a steady job. For many years, though, this was not the case. After the procedure, Dully was institutionalized; as an adult, he became a drug-addicted, petty crook angry at the world for what had happened. Love for his wife helped redeem him, and he came to forgive everyone, including his parents and Dr. Freeman. "I think I was angry at society for a long time, but I went through that and now I don't think there's any point in dwelling on it. I blame everyone for what happened including myself. I was a mean little ruffian," he commented to Elizabeth Day in a London Observer article, adding: "I don't think Freeman was evil. I think he was misguided."

While he has managed to lead a fairly normal life, there is no doubt that the operation changed him permanently. Dully notes that, after the procedure, he could no longer play chess. He also lacks ambition and senses that his personality is now different from what it might have been had he been spared the procedure. "I don't feel physically different from anyone else," he told the Observer interviewer. "I get eye infections because I think they destroyed my tear ducts." Despite the relatively happy ending to Dully's story, New York Times Book Reviewer critic William Grimes called My Lobotomy "one of the saddest stories you'll ever read." Sarah Flowers, writing in the School Library Journal, described it as a "compelling and tragic story," while a Kirkus Reviews writer declared it "profoundly disturbing."

Dully told CA: "Finding out about my life first got me interested in writing.

"Real-life experiences (my lobotomy, child abuse) influence my work.

"When I write, I use an outline and then expand on that.

"The publishing process is still a mystery to me and probably always will be.

"I hope that my book will give strength and support to others that have issues like mine."



Dully, Howard, and Charles Fleming, My Lobotomy: A Memoir, Crown (New York, NY), 2007.


Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2007, review of My Lobotomy.

New York Times Book Review, September 14, 2007, William Grimes, "Spikes in the Brain, and a Search for Answers."

Observer (London, England), January 13, 2008, Elizabeth Day, "He Was Bad, So They Put an Ice Pick in His Brain," review of My Lobotomy.

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), September 2, 2007, Andrea Simakis, "Howard Dully's Searing Story of His Lobotomy at Age 12."

Publishers Weekly, June 4, 2007, review of My Lobotomy, p. 40; December 24, 2007, review of My Lobotomy, p. 54.

San Francisco Chronicle, September 10, 2007, June Sawyers, "Review: Howard Dully's Memoir about Having a Lobotomy at Age 12."

San Jose Mercury News, November 18, 2005, "‘My Lobotomy’: Man Opens Up about Life-Altering Procedure."

School Library Journal, December, 2007, Sarah Flowers, review of My Lobotomy, p. 162.

Tampa Tribune, January 21, 2008, "Lobotomy: Proceeding without Caution."


Howard Dully Home Page,http://howarddully.com (March 1, 2008).

Mind Hacks,http://www.mindhacks.com/ (February 19, 2007), "Five Minutes with Howard Dully," interview with Howard Dully.