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Giving Thanks for Pediatrician and Teacher Henry Seidel

June 07, 2010
Sujay Pathak

Johns Hopkins medical student Sujay Pathak performs "Every Time We Say Goodbye" at the June 1 tribute to Henry Seidel, whose portrait is to the left.

Henry Seidel

Henry Seidel, M.D., 1922-2010

The Johns Hopkins community and friends gathered Tuesday, June 1, to celebrate the life of Henry M. Seidel, professor emeritus of pediatrics and a former dean of students at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Seidel died March 27 of complications from lymphoma. He was 87.

In a program in Turner Auditorium, replete with music performed by School of Medicine students, and the warm words of appreciative colleagues and former students, the beloved educator at Johns Hopkins was recalled as a masterful teacher and consummate pediatrician.

“In all my years, I have never known another human being loved by so many people,” said the Reverend Clyde R. Shallenberger, chaplain emeritus at Johns Hopkins Hospita.

He recounted a conversation years ago with a medical student. “I said that I thought Henry could almost walk on water. To which the student replied, ‘You’re all wet. He does walk on water.’

“Henry was always concerned about people,” Shallenberger continued. “A gentle, caring, encouraging person, he not only listened, he heard. Unlike the flower of the field, the memory of a human being like Henry will always be with us.”

Indeed, said former student and now Director of the Department of Pediatrics George Dover, “he was a consummate pediatrician, a beloved dean, wonderful teacher and unique colleague. He listened, and heard what other people could not or would not.”

Dean emeritus of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Richard Ross said that he “hit a home run” when he appointed Seidel the full-time dean of students in 1977. “Henry was the perfect person for the job. He was loved by the students and respected by the faculty. He continually reminded the dean and faculty that the School of Medicine is a school and about the students.”

“His devotion to Johns Hopkins was absolute,” added Professor of Pediatrics Beryl Rosenstein, at the podium. “I met him as an intern on the Harriet Lane service here. He became my own children’s pediatrician, in his 14 years as one of the area’s leading pediatricians.”

Seidel, a former resident on the Harriet Lane service and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and its School of Medicine, was recommended to Johns Hopkins by the American poet, and his family’s physician, William Carlos Williams. In his letter, Williams captured the essence of all that was said about his former patient, upon his death, decades later.  Seidel, he wrote, is “a boy of intelligence, industry and excellent character.”

Seidel’s son, Stuart A. Seidel, took the final bow on stage, there by his father’s portrait, borrowed from the School of Medicine where it now hangs. “It is wonderful to hear such fine things about our father,” said Seidel, gazing out at his supportive audience of hundreds. “Johns Hopkins was very welcoming to the son of immigrants from Lithuania.”

He described how his father savored Thanksgiving with his family in 2009, knowing it was his last. “He talked to us about Johns Hopkins,” said Seidel, “about the development of the blue baby surgery in the 1930s. About Alfred Blalock who epitomized Hopkins. About Helen Taussig. About Vivian Thomas, grandson of slaves. Of the great opportunities for so many from so many backgrounds that have been opened to them at this place.

“Dad would have been humbled here today. And by the array of so many students.”

Reverend Shallenberger had this benediction for his friend of decades: “My dear friend Henry has completed his final journey. In his memory, I continue to respect him, and I love him from the depth of my being. I thank God for Henry Seidel. If only we had more like him.”

He was certainly, said Edward Miller, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, the embodiment of “all that is best about Johns Hopkins Medicine.”

Learn more about Henry Seidel and the Scholarship Fund in his honor. 

Reflections: Remembering Henry Seidel, M.D., 1922-2010 

In his own words: Seidel talks about the pleasures in teaching.