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Gordon F. Schwartz, surgeon, professor, and pioneering breast disease specialist, dies at 86

He received many awards and citations for his work, including the 1996 Race for the Cure Award from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Dr. Gordon F. Schwartz touched thousands of cancer patients through his work and research.
Dr. Gordon F. Schwartz touched thousands of cancer patients through his work and research.Read moreCourtesy of the family

Gordon F. Schwartz, 86, of Philadelphia, an innovative breast disease specialist, surgeon, and longtime professor of surgery, died Monday, Aug. 16, of renal failure at Waverly Heights in Gladwyne.

A tireless leader in the early study and treatment of breast cancer, Dr. Schwartz was at the forefront of educating the public about the importance of mammograms, early cancer detection, and emerging treatments for the disease.

He was the director of the Breast Care Center at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s Kimmel Cancer Center and had hospital appointments at Graduate, Bryn Mawr, Chestnut Hill, and Pennsylvania Hospitals.

In addition to Jefferson, he taught surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.

Dr. Schwartz wrote and cowrote hundreds of papers on surgical oncology, cancer therapy, breast surgery, and other issues and published Breast Book with coauthor Margaret Markham in 1982 and Reconstructive and Aesthetic Mammoplasty with Randolph H. Guthrie Jr. in 1989.

He received many awards and citations for his work, including the 1996 Race for the Cure Award from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation

He was most proud, and perhaps most well-known among his colleagues, for his “consensus conferences” that brought together experts from around the world to discuss and advise on topical medical issues of the day.

“Those conferences changed the course of treatments,” said his daughter, Susan.

In addition to treating cancer, Dr. Schwartz organized many fund-raising and support activities and headed several studies that revolutionized cancer detection and treatment.

In a 1994 story in the Daily News, he talked about a 20-year study by doctors at Thomas Jefferson that highlighted the importance of mammograms and cancer screening for women in their 40s.

“Without access to mammography, these women would be denied this earliest detection,” Dr. Schwartz said in the article.

Born April 29, 1935, in Plainfield, N.J., Dr. Schwartz was valedictorian at Plainfield High School. He graduated from Princeton in 1956 and Harvard Medical School in 1960. He served as a captain and doctor in the Army from 1961-63, then completed his residency in surgery at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York.

Starting at Jefferson in 1970, he rose to full professor in 1978, and was director of Surgical Academic Programs, the Surgical Residency Program, and the Fellowship in Breast Diseases.

In 1990, at 50 and looking to expand his expertise, he earned a master’s degree in management and finance from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He retired from surgery in 2013.

Dr. Schwartz met Rochelle Krantz at Harvard summer school in 1957. They married in 1959 and had son Amory and daughter Susan. The family lived in Haverford from 1970-84 and then relocated to Center City.

Dr. Schwartz was an avid Phillies fan, and a softball player for the Princeton club team into his 50s. He enjoyed opera, and loved to visit and support the city of Venice, Italy.

He was the kind of father, his wife and son said, who would get up at 5 a.m., after working all day and often late into the night, to take his son to ice hockey practice. Former patients and their families approached Dr. Schwartz wherever he went, and he volunteered to help anyone he encountered who needed medical attention.

“He was very positive,” his son said.

“He always had a smile on his face,” his daughter said.

“He was a five-star husband and father,” said his wife. “Very loving. Very supportive. I’m very happy he married me.”

In addition to his wife and children, Dr. Schwartz is survived by two granddaughters, a sister, and other relatives.

Services were Sunday, Aug. 22.

Donations in his name may be made to Save Venice Inc., an American nonprofit dedicated to preserving the artistic heritage of the Italian city, 133 E. 58th St., Suite 501, New York, N.Y. 10022.