William B. Carey, 93, of Swarthmore, a pediatrician, child development researcher, and medical educator, died Sunday, July 26, of congestive heart failure at Cathedral Village in Roxborough, where he had lived since 2012.
Dr. Carey was known as a solo practitioner of pediatrics in Media, he said in a self-written obituary. However, starting in the 1960s, he simultaneously conducted research into the temperamental differences in children as they developed, a project that drew national and international attention.
With the help of psychologists, Dr. Carey created the first set of five clinical questionnaires in which parents described the traits of their children at various stages between one month and 12 years of age.
In general, he reshaped what was already known — that children’s behaviors spring from the interplay of their inborn qualities and abilities with their specific environments. But his questionnaires advanced the field of study by giving scientists a tool to measure and group the behaviors.
Based on his findings, Dr. Carey counseled parents to carefully study their children’s concerns and reactions to situations within their environment when the youngsters acted out. His work was translated into other languages, and he lectured widely.
“It’s up to parents to try to interact with their children as harmoniously as possible without surrendering authority,” he told the Chestnut Hill Local in 2012. It’s also important, he said, for parents to recognize the impact their own reactions have on their child, and how they may be adding to the child’s angst.
In his later years, he pushed back against assertions by medical professionals that unwelcome behavior in children could be traced mostly to brain function abnormalities. He argued strongly against what he called the over-prescription of Ritalin to calm hyperactive children, including those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“I think the current diagnosis of ADHD is a mess and has been wildly overdone,” he told the newspaper. “It blames a variety of symptoms entirely on the child’s brain, and ignores the child’s environment and the interaction with it.”
Ways should be found, he said, to reduce the stressful interactions and to teach kids coping skills.
William Bacon Carey was born in Germantown to Margaret Howell Bacon and Henry Reginald Carey. He graduated from Milton Academy, earned a bachelor’s degree in American studies from Yale University, and completed a medical degree at Harvard University in 1954.
He interned at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where he taught and practiced from 1960 until 2019 when he retired at age 92. He held a parallel appointment as clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Carey served from 1957 to 1959 as a captain in the Army Medical Corps in Arizona. In 1956, he married Ann Lord McDougal. They raised three daughters in Swarthmore. His wife died in 2014.
Dr. Carey was the author of more than 130 research papers, reviews, commentaries, editorials, and book chapters. He wrote or co-authored nine books, including one for parents entitled Understanding Your Child’s Temperament. He also looked into the lay literature for nuggets of insight into child development.
He received the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 1991 Aldrich Award in Child Development and its 1992 Practitioner Research Award. In 1984, he was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Medicine, a prestigious post.
He was a member of the Franklin Inn — the Philadelphia literary club — and the Small Point Club, a social group in Phippsburg, Maine, where he and his family vacationed.
Dr. Carey enjoyed music, reading, gardening, and the opera. He was committed to supporting young vocalists, hosting yearly concerts by students from the Academy of Vocal Arts at his home in Swarthmore and later at Cathedral Village.
A fan of all things Italian, he arranged lecture tours in Italy.
“He was a really well-rounded, generous, kind person,” said daughter Elizabeth M. Carey. “He was a hard worker, but always found time for us.”
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by daughters Katharine B. Carey and Laura B. Carey, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Plans for a memorial service were pending due to the COVID-19 pandemic.