Helen Elizabeth Nash M.D.

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Nash, Helen Elizabeth M.D. was a pioneer as an African American woman training and starting a medical practice in the 1940s. She broke down racial barriers in the medical community in St. Louis and proceeded to provide excellent health care for thousands of children during the 45 years she was in pediatric practice. Dr. Nash was both the first African-American woman to join the attending staff at St. Louis Children's Hospital (1949) and to become president of the medical staff (1977). Dr. Helen Nash was born August 8, 1921 in Atlanta, Georgia, the third of six children born to Dr. Homer E. Nash Senior and Marie Antoinette Graves Nash. She died October 4, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. She earned a bachelor's degree from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia in 1941 and a medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee in 1945. She completed her internship and pediatric residency, including chief residency at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis. Opened in 1937 as a segregated hospital to serve the black community, Homer G. Phillips was the only place in St. Louis where non-white doctors could get internships and residencies. After residency, Dr. Nash accepted a medical staff position at Homer G. Phillips Hospital. She was instrumental, with the help of mentor Park White M.D., in reducing the premature infant death rate at Homer G. Phillips Hospital by making relatively simple improvements in hygiene and equipment as well as in significantly breaking down racial barriers at Children's Hospital. Separate wards for black children at St. Louis Children's Hospital were abolished in 1947. In 1964, Helen married James Abernathy and together they enjoyed their love of travel, boating, and caring for their dogs until his death in 1980. She enthusiastically explored many hobbies including photography, music, cooking, reading, and collecting. Helen was also a patron of the St. Louis Symphony, the arts, and a board member and contributor to the Missouri Botanical Gardens. She is best known for her work as an advocate for children. She opened her medical practice in 1949 in St. Louis's black business district and it was soon thriving. Through her practice, Dr. Nash cared for three generations of St. Louis children by treating their physical illnesses in the wider context of their emotional, social, and family situations. She has received numerous awards and recognition throughout the years. In 1992, Webster University conferred the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. She received the 1996 Lifetime Achievement Award in Healthcare by the St. Louis American Foundation and most recently in September of this year, the St. Louis Gateway Classic Sports Foundation 2012 Lifetime Achievement & Walk of Fame Awards. In 1993, Dr. Nash retired as professor emeritus (clinical) of Pediatrics from Washington University. After her retirement, she served as the Washington University Medical School's Dean of Minority Affairs from 1994 to 1996. Each year, since 1996, the Washington University School of Medicine has bestowed the Dr. Helen E. Nash Academic Achievement Award to a student who has exhibited to an unusual degree the qualities of industry, perseverance, determination, and enthusiasm. Dr. Nash is survived by her brother, Dr. Homer E. Nash, Jr., sister, Mrs. Dorothy Shack, nieces, Cheryl Chisholm, Terrell Mann (Steve), Karen Reynolds (Stanley), Sherry Heard, Lauren Nash Ming (Leo), Dr. Alison Nash (Clarence Dula), and Tracey NashHuntley (David Huntley), nephew, Hailu Shack, fifteen grand nieces and nephews, two great-grand nieces, friend and caregiver, Ethel Ellis, former office staff members, and a host of other friends and associates. Services: A memorial service will be held on October 27, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. at All Saints' Episcopal Church, 5010 Terry Avenue, St. Louis, MO. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the St. Louis Symphony, the Missouri Botanical Garden or the St. Louis Children's Hospital Foundation.


Published in St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Oct. 9, 2012