Dr. Margaret Heagarty

Obituary of Dr. Margaret Heagarty

Please share a memory of Dr. Margaret to include in a keepsake book for family and friends.

Margaret Caroline Heagarty, M.D. died peacefully in her home in the Bronx on December 23,
2022. Her life was a creative blend of keen intellect, administrative skill, and tireless devotion to
the care of sick children — notably those who suffered from the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s
and 90’s.
Known to family and friends as Maggie, Aunt Maggie, and ‘the Matriarch,’ she was born
September 8, 1934, in Charleston, West Virginia. The first of three children, she outlived both
her sister Mary Alice and her brother John Patrick Jr., as well as her sister-in-law Darleen. She is
survived by her brother-in-law William Burgan, his son Harry Burgan, daughter Margaret Ash

and by her nephew Christopher Heagarty, her niece Nicole Heagarty, and eleven grand-
nephews and nieces.

Her father was Dr. John Patrick Heagarty, her mother Margaret Caroline (Walsh) Heagarty. The
senior doctor Heagarty was a physician who treated patients in the West Virginia coalfields and
inspired his eldest daughter to follow in his footsteps. After graduating from Seton Hill College
in Pennsylvania, she attended West Virginia State University's two-year School of Medicine as
one of only two women in the class. She then earned her medical degree from the University of
Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1961 and completed a pediatric residency at Temple
University in 1964.
Doctor Heagarty entered academic medicine at a time when there were few women engaged in
that field. After pediatric residency, she went to Harvard Medical School to study the
relationship between community factors and childhood health. In 1967, she published a study
of the effect of race on the acceptance of medical care. Dr. Heagarty served as Director of
Pediatric Ambulatory Care Services at Cornell-New York Hospital, before becoming Director of
Pediatrics at Columbia University's Harlem Hospital Center in 1978. She served as Director of
Pediatrics for 22 years, where she dramatically improved the survival and quality of life of the
children of Harlem. As noted in an NIH summary of her career, she “brought innovations in the
care of newborn babies to Harlem Children's Hospital, where the rate for neonatal mortality
had been more than three times the national average. Her initiatives included programs dealing
with the issues of teenage pregnancy, a new pediatric AIDS unit, a group home for HIV-infected
children, community satellite clinics, and community projects to prevent playground
injuries. On a national scale, she made an issue of the plight of cocaine-exposed ‘boarder
babies,’ babies abandoned at birth by parents with a history of substance abuse.”
Dr. Heagarty succeeded in focusing international attention on this issue, including that of
dignitaries such as Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, First Lady Barbara Bush, and Princess
Diana. In February 1989, the princess visited the pediatric AIDS unit at Harlem Hospital,
escorted by Dr. Heagarty. Diana asked her about the mothers. “When you have a problem with
the drugs, how on earth can you deal with AIDS as well?” Dr. Heagarty responded, “It is bad
enough to have a fatal disease, but with poverty and drugs, you have a very bad problem
indeed. It is easy to say these mothers are irresponsible, but, still, I have seen them grieving
over their dying children. These mothers love their children the same as you love your little
Princes.” The publicity the tour received helped draw attention to the plight of "AIDS babies"

worldwide, directly resulting in a surge of families volunteering to offer them foster homes,
going from zero pending applications at the time of the visit to one hundred and sixty of these
abandoned infants finding foster homes in the first two years after the visit.
Throughout her distinguished career Dr. Heagarty was involved in many projects and
committees and earned a reputation as a true leader. She was a member of the New York
Academy of Medicine, where she has served on the Board of Trustees, a fellow of the American
Academy of Pediatrics, a member of the Society for Pediatric Research, and a past president of
the Ambulatory Pediatric Association. In retirement, Dr. Heagarty was a professor emerita of
pediatrics at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and elected to the
Institute of Medicine. Among numerous honors, Dr. Margaret Heagarty received the Martha
May Eliot Award in 1994 from the American Public Health Association, and in 1995 she was
granted an honorary Doctor of Medical Science degree from Yale University.
“She was a mountain of an Irish woman, a mother superior in disguise, a devout Catholic who
never married,” said Dr. Stephen Nicholas, who succeeded her as the director of pediatrics at
Harlem Hospital. “In her no-nonsense way, she captured the imagination of many, including a
princess, a first lady, and a surgeon general, to address the plight of children in Harlem during
the ravages of AIDS and crack during the 1980’s.”
A memorial service for Dr. Heagarty will be held at 10:00 AM on February 18, at Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church, located at 1510 Adee Avenue, The
Bronx, New York 10469. In lieu of flowers, Dr. Heagarty would be honored by any kind
donations made to Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.


Memorial Mass

10:00 am - 11:00 am
Saturday, February 18, 2023
Holy Rosary Church
Eastchester Rd. & E. Gunhill Ave.
Bronx, New York, United States
Online Memory & Photo Sharing Event
Online Event
About this Event
Dr. Margaret Heagarty

In Loving Memory

Dr. Margaret Heagarty

1934 - 2022

Look inside to read what others have shared
Family and friends are coming together online to create a special keepsake. Every memory left on the online obituary will be automatically included in this book.
Share Your Memory of
Dr. Margaret