Longtime obstetrician and gynecologist Dr Howard Isaacson of Wynnewood, who served in the Air Force after World War II, died May 15 of cancer in the Waverly Heights retirement community . He was 99 years old.
During her more than 60-year career as an OB-GYN, Isaacson gave birth to more than 10,000 children, including her three grandchildren. He practiced at Philadelphia General, Haverford, Pennsylvania, Presbyterian, Lankenau, and Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals. He was only the second Jewish doctor to practice at Pennsylvania Hospital, according to his granddaughter Zoë Slutzky.
“He was really someone everyone could trust,” said his son Bill Isaacson.
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A member of Adath Israel at Merion Station, Isaacson supported a myriad of Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federation, B’nai Brith and the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation.
“He went to synagogue all his life, and he kept kosher, for example, and those values were important to him. [He] raised his family according to them,” said his daughter Joan Ockman.
Family members described Isaacson as being kind to a fault, which was reflected in Isaacson’s dedication to his job.
Ockman remembers his father taking calls during dinner or in the middle of the night. After late night or early morning deliveries, he would come home at dawn and quickly get back to work for his daily office hours.
In the winter, Isaacson would roll down the driveway, lift the car, and strap chains on the tires to drive through the snow.
“We really experienced his profession as kids,” Ockman said.
Born in the Bronx and the grandson of Jewish immigrants in 1922, Isaacson grew up in Freehold, New Jersey. His father eventually owned a clothing and fabric store that Isaacson clocked in on for hours, teaching himself about customer service and learning admiration for his parents.
“He respected their work ethic, their hard work,” Slutzky said. “It influenced the way he approached his career.”
Isaacson planned to become a general surgeon and graduated from Rutgers University in 1943.
Despite Jefferson Medical College’s quota of Jewish students, Isaacson was accepted there and graduated in 1946. The war, which sent many young men overseas, increased the demand for university students, giving Jews, women and other under-registered populations the opportunity to attend.
But Isaacson held firm, Ockman said: “The story he told was that he was interviewed and offered admission on the spot. He was very bright and impressed them with his intelligence, his abilities.
He interned at Philadelphia General Hospital in 1947, the same year he married chemist June Golove. The couple had two children.
Isaacson joined the Air Force and was assigned to the Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, where, instead of performing general surgery, she was asked to give birth in the growing era of baby boomers.
He also befriended a Palestinian and his family while living in Montgomery. They were lifelong friends, keeping in touch and exchanging gifts for years.
After his service, Isaacson returned to Philadelphia, where he completed residencies at Jefferson and Philadelphia General Hospitals. He practiced OBGYN until his retirement in 2003 and continued to counsel patients years after.
After his wife died in 1993, Isaacson became a partner with Reta Eisenberg, who died in 2018. Both loved to travel.
With a deep love for the theater, Isaacson shared his passion for Shakespeare with his family.
“He taught me various passages, and when I had to perform, he would have me stand on a table and I would have to recite a soliloquy from Hamlet,” Ockman said.
When Slutzky turned seven, Isaacson began taking her to the theater, driving from Wynnewood to Elkins Park to pick her up, then to Center City to see a show almost every week.
“It was like this totally magical thing,” Slutzky said.
Isaacson was athletic in his later decades and loved tennis and ping pong. He was New York State’s runner-up in a ping-pong tournament as a teenager.
Throughout his life, Isaacson was interested in the hobbies of those close to him. He talked about sport and medicine with his son, also a doctor, and about poetry with his daughter. He maintained a garden with Slutzky until the mid-1990s.
“He really was a gentleman,” Bill Isaacson said. “A big, big model.”
Isaacson is survived by his two children, Bill Isaacson and Joan Ockman; three grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.