A Remembrance: Margaret Heagarty, MD, 1934-2022
By Michael Katz, MD
Margaret Heagarty, professor of pediatrics and director of the pediatric service at Harlem Hospital for 22 years, improved health care for children in Harlem and raised the standards of that service to merit its academic stature. She was exceptionally successful in offering sophisticated care at the peak of the HIV epidemic and particularly distinguished herself in maintaining a high quality of teaching along with outstanding care. She maintained her marvelous sense of humor near the end of her life, and no one who knew her could ever forget her!
Maggie—as we all called her—lived modestly in a middle class Italian neighborhood in the Bronx but was internationally known and active. She was a member of the National Academy of Medicine since its early days when it was still the Institute of Medicine. Her Harlem pediatric service was a favorite elective for pediatrics residents, a few of whom joined her after they completed their residencies.
Her program had distinguished visitors, including two visits from Diana, the Princess of Wales, and the Crown Princess of Thailand. One evening before Diana was expected, Maggie was approached in the hospital parking lot by two very polite Englishmen representing Scotland Yard. They wanted to ascertain whether Maggie, an Irish woman, would have any difficulties hosting Her Royal Highness; she did not and they were reassured but stayed discreetly behind while accompanying her the following day.
Diana’s visit was especially memorable. She embraced several of the children in a maternal manner and engaged each of us in conversations, clearly very interested in the children’s futures.
Maggie was invited to dinner in the White House of President Bush (the father). Although she was quiet and modest in her demeanor, her neighbors got together to make sure that she had proper attire before sending her off to that formal occasion.
A devout Roman Catholic, she always offered her blessings to those on our faculty who were getting married. She was ill when I was about to marry, so Robin and I went to visit her in the Bronx to receive that ritual.
When we converted the former convent in Washington Heights into a unit that offered care to the infants of HIV-infected mothers, Maggie made sure that the unit was properly inaugurated by Cardinal O’Connor himself. I have no doubt that if there were an Afterlife, she would receive an appropriate welcome there.
Michael Katz, MD, is the Carpentier Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics at VP&S and professor emeritus of public health at Columbia. He chaired the VP&S Department of Pediatrics from 1976 to 1992. He also is senior vice president emeritus at the March of Dimes Foundation, adjunct professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, and president of the Oxford Maternal and Perinatal Health Institute at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.