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Henry Shuford Cecil, 97, leading pediatrician and former head of Children’s Seashore House

Dr. Cecil was way ahead of his time. He understood that children with developmental disabilities and other obstacles needed special care. Then he provided it.

Dr. Henry S. Cecil
Dr. Henry S. CecilRead moreCourtesy of the Cecil family. (custom credit)

Henry Shuford Cecil, 97, a leading Philadelphia pediatrician and past medical director of Children’s Seashore House, which treats youngsters with chronic ailments and developmental disabilities, died Friday, Dec. 7, of Parkinson’s disease at the Hill at Whitemarsh in Lafayette Hill.

He had lived at various places on the Main Line and in Philadelphia until moving to the Hill at Whitemarsh in 1997.

Dr. Cecil spent his life helping children with complicated medical, behavioral, and learning problems that profoundly affected their quality of life and that of their families. He underwent extra training so he could view their predicament from a variety of standpoints, and fashioned multidisciplinary programs that set them on a pathway to rehabilitation when a cure was not possible. Then he taught other doctors to follow his lead.

“In the early 1980s, he was a leader in providing care for children with special health-care, disability, and rehabilitation needs,” said Susan E. Levy, a Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia attending physician who occupies a professorship set up in his honor. “He was a forerunner in deciding that children with these needs needed special treatment. He was a man who was ahead of his time with a commitment to this very special population.”

Dr. Cecil was born in Spartanburg, S.C. He graduated from Wofford College in Spartanburg in 1942. He served in the Navy Reserve from 1942 through 1946.

In 1950, he earned a medical degree from Vanderbilt University and then went to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital for an internship, followed by a pediatric residency at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

From 1953 to 1955, he participated in a fellowship in developmental pediatrics at Children’s. His goal was to get advanced training in the physical, emotional, and social development of youngsters. At that time, developmental-behavioral pediatrics was not yet a subspecialty; it would not become board-certified until 2002.

He opened an office in Paoli, where he practiced pediatrics for 10 years ending in 1959.

An academic as well as a clinician, Dr. Cecil taught outpatient pediatric care at Children’s while a solo practitioner. He was appointed assistant professor of pediatrics in 1959 at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Several years later, he rose to associate professor.

In 1959, Dr. Cecil embarked on what would become his signature contribution. He was appointed director of child development at Children’s. With support from the William T. Grant Foundation, he established the Division of Child Development and Rehabilitation for children with physical disabilities, learning difficulties, and developmental problems. Pediatric residents who studied under him learned child development, how to be part of a multidisciplinary team, and how to counsel parents.

In 1969, Dr. Cecil was named CEO and medical director of Children’s Seashore House in Atlantic City, the first pediatric rehabilitation hospital in the nation. What had begun in 1872 as a summer getaway for several dozen city children suffering from various maladies grew under his leadership into a respected medical center.

In the late 1980s, Dr. Cecil spearheaded the relocation of Children’s Seashore House to a site adjacent to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It is now part of Children’s Hospital.

“An outpatient facility continued in Atlantic City,” said Levy. “But it became clear that the needs of children were great, and more could be done with care and training in Philadelphia.”

In 1990, an endowed professorship in child development and rehabilitation medicine was created at Penn and Children’s. Levy is its first occupant.

“I was very honored to have been designated as holding the chair in his name,” Levy said.

Levy described Dr. Cecil as a quiet, thoughtful, and determined man. “He knew what the clinical and fellowship program needed, and he got it done,” she said.

Dr. Cecil was married to Margaret McBurnett Cecil. The couple had a daughter, Rebecca, and son, David, before divorcing. She died in 1972.

He was later married to Patricia Crowther, the mother of his daughter, Anne. They divorced. She died in 2015.

In 1997, he married Elizabeth Marvin Bryson Cecil. In addition to his wife and three children, he is survived by stepdaughters Jennifer Alderman and Elizabeth Beers; two grandsons; and four step-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 19, at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 8000 St. Martins Lane. Interment is private.

Contributions may be made to the Cecil Family Scholarship Fund at Wofford College, 429 N. Church St., Spartanburg, S.C. 29303, or the Christ Church Preservation Trust, 20 N. American St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19106.