Howard Isaacson, 99, of Wynnewood, a longtime obstetrician and gynecologist in Philadelphia, former chief of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Philadelphia General and Haverford Hospitals, teacher at Thomas Jefferson University Medical College and the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate school of medicine, and veteran, died Sunday, May 15, of cancer at Waverly Heights retirement community in Gladwyne.
Dr. Isaacson began delivering babies in the late 1940s as an Air Force doctor and oversaw more than 10,000 births before he retired in 2003. In addition to Philadelphia General and Haverford Hospitals, he saw patients at Pennsylvania, Lankenau, Presbyterian, and Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals.
Even after he retired, the personable physician was often greeted in public by generations of families, many of whom he had delivered over the years. “He found it rewarding to bring babies into the world,” said his daughter, Joan Ockman. “He was extremely passionate and eager to help people.”
As birthdays can be unpredictable, so, too, was Dr. Isaacson’s schedule. He skipped family vacations because patients were due to give birth that week and wrapped chains around his car tires during snowstorms so he could drive to the hospital for late-night deliveries.
He often went straight to his office for daytime appointments after long nights with patients and perfected the art of napping when he got the chance. His usual response to questions about his own condition was: “As good as can be expected.”
“He never complained,” said his son, Bill, also a doctor. “That’s just who he was.” His daughter said: “He was the model of hard work, of devotion.”
Dr. Isaacson never intended to practice obstetrics. Good with his hands as a young man, he was planning a career as a general surgeon when he was assigned to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., during his military service.
It was the beginning of the post-World War II baby boom, and doctors were suddenly needed to care for women and their infants. So he continued the practice when he returned to Philadelphia, even eventually delivering all three of his grandchildren.
“He was so caring and loving he was able to develop a rapport with women,” his daughter said. His son said: “He knew how to relate to everybody.”
Born Oct. 18, 1922, in the Bronx into a family that eventually featured several doctors, Dr. Isaacson grew up in Freehold, N.J., and graduated from Rutgers University in 1943. He was so talented and motivated that, in spite of a stifling quota for Jewish students, he earned entry and gained his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in 1946.
He completed an internship at Philadelphia General Hospital in 1947 and was a resident at Jefferson and Philadelphia General Hospitals after his military service.
He married chemist June Golove in 1947, and they lived in Wynnewood and had daughter Joan and son Bill. His wife died in 1993. He later became a partner to Reta Eisenberg. She died in 2018.
Dr. Isaacson was a member and fellow of many professional organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. He regarded his work as a lifelong calling and continued to visit and advise former patients after he retired, often taking his granddaughter, Zoë Slutzky, along for the ride.
“He was the best person I’ve ever known,” his granddaughter said. “He was my best friend.”
Dr. Isaacson liked sports, was a ping pong champion as a teenager, and played tennis into his 90s. He cheered on his son and daughter during their athletic pursuits, had season tickets to Eagles games, and later accompanied his son to 76ers games.
He enjoyed poetry and evenings of dinner and the theater, especially with his granddaughter, and loved to immerse himself in the language of Shakespeare. He traveled widely with his wife and later his partner, visiting Myanmar, South America, Egypt, India, China, Japan, and elsewhere.
He played bridge and, despite not eating many vegetables himself, grew tomatoes, corn, peppers, and other things in his garden that he shared with family and friends. He supported his family during tough times, they said, and cherished daughter-in-law Julie, grandsons Bobby and Mark, and great-grandson James.
“His kindness and compassion were incredible,” said his son. “He was an extraordinary person.”
“I admired him greatly,” his daughter said.
In addition to his daughter, son, daughter-in-law, grandchildren, and great-grandson, Dr. Isaacson is survived by other relatives. A brother died earlier.
Services were Wednesday, May 18.
Donations in his name may be made to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, L.B. No. 4000, P.O. Box 95000, Philadelphia, Pa. 19195.