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Richard Wallace, 70, Center City internist who treated more than just physical ills

Dr. Wallace was funny and a natural-born entertainer. He once wrote a haiku to remind his patients to get a flu shot.

Richard Wallace
Richard WallaceRead moreCourtesy of Benjamin M. Siegel-Wallace (custom credit)

Richard Wallace, 70, of Center City, an internist who treated patients for four decades, died Tuesday, Sept. 24, of complications from cancer at his home.

Dr. Wallace maintained offices in a brownstone on South 19th Street for many years. He made house calls long after the practice had been abandoned by most physicians.

“He displayed a sweetness, frivolity, wisdom, and commitment to his patients that earned him status as one of the most beloved doctors in the city,” his family said.

The care he provided went well beyond the physical.

“He was a wonderful part of the fabric of the neighborhood,” said Martha Salzmann-Gay, a longtime patient. “He welcomed all of us in the neighborhood into his family, his home, and his life.”

He even followed some of his patients on Facebook. “One time,” Salzmann-Gay said, “when I posted how horribly I had been treated by a man I had been dating for several months, my phone rang an hour later, and it was Dr. Wallace checking in to see if I was OK.”

He was very attentive to his family, said son Benjamin M. Siegel-Wallace.

“Imagine, if you will, a man who comes upstairs after a full day in his office, dons sweats and Rec Specs, and plays with his three boys for an hour before sitting down to every family dinner over 30 years,” his son said.

A lifelong Philadelphian, Dr. Wallace graduated from Overbrook High School and Pennsylvania State University before earning a medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in 1974. He served an internship and a residency at Einstein Medical Center.

While living at the Juniper East building on Broad Street in 1975, he noticed a woman checking her mail and stuffed his own mail back in the box so that he could greet her. That’s how he met Ellen J. Siegel, and his most effective act of salesmanship was persuading her to marry him in 1979, he liked to say.

“She cooked fantastic, elaborate meals that he loved, and he washed and dried the dishes nightly while whistling show tunes,” his son said.

“I never washed a dish in 40 years,” his wife said.

Dr. Wallace opened his solo medical practice in 1979 and remained an independent practitioner until six weeks ago, when he became ill.

His patients described him as thorough, personable, and knowledgeable, his wife said. He often spent an hour or more with each, explaining medical concepts and leaving time to learn about their lives.

“Rich had a great sense of humor, which was a blessing to his patients,” said Mark Michaels of Chicago, his friend since college. “And he was one of the first internists in Philadelphia to work the HIV epidemic when others turned their backs in fear.”

Folklorist Steve Zeitlin, a family cousin, described Dr. Wallace as a raconteur, punster, and humorist who brought wit and charm to the many Seders he led.

Those skills weren’t lost on his sons. “He effused so much warmth and general knowledge that all of his sons can tell old jokes, entertain a crowd, and know the answer to a five-letter clue involving a giraffe’s kin,” his son said. (The five-letter word is okapi.)

Once, when asked by a jokester why he didn’t buy a red Ferrari during his “midlife crisis,” he retorted: “There’s no parking in Philly.”

He wrote a haiku to remind his patients to get a flu shot:

The rhinovirus

is breeding inside my nose

Haiku! Gesundheit

He enjoyed following the Phillies, 76ers, and Eagles. He loved walking his border collie. He liked to coach the Taney Youth Baseball Association. “There are only three rules in baseball,” he told his players: “Be loud, have fun, and get dirty.”

Besides his son and his wife of 40 years, he is survived by sons Micah Wallace and Samuel Siegel-Wallace; two brothers; and two sisters.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2, at Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel, 300 S. 18th St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19103. Burial is private.

Donations may be made to the synagogue at the address above.