Dr. James Henry Shell

[Age 86] The obstetrician delivered more than 5,000 babies in 40 years.

March 04, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,sun reporter

Dr. James Henry Shell, a retired obstetrician who delivered more than 5,000 babies in his 40 years in medicine, died of a neurological condition Feb. 25 at the Keswick Multi-Care Center after a long illness. The Towson resident was 86.

Born in Greenville, S.C., he decided as a child that he would become a doctor, family members said. While his mother gave birth to his younger sister, he was sent out of his home to a neighbor's. Later, he discussed the birth with the physician, which inspired him.

"It became a goal of his at that age," said a daughter, Kathy Shell of Towson. "He didn't stop playing baseball completely at that point -- but he played a lot less and studied harder."

He earned a bachelor's degree from Furman University in Greenville and studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before enrolling at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where he earned a degree in 1945. He also served in the Army Medical Corps during World War II.

While at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, he met Ruth E. Forsyth, an emergency room nurse. They had their first date on an Easter Sunday and walked to the Hippodrome for a movie. They married in 1945.

After the war, Dr. Shell established a practice in obstetrics and gynecology and had offices on Washington Boulevard, Pennington Avenue and in the Medical Arts Building in Mount Vernon. He served on the staffs of St. Agnes, University, Bon Secours and Maryland General hospitals, as well as the old Lutheran Hospital, where he was briefly chief of gynecology.

Family members recalled that one Christmas Eve, he delivered seven babies at five different hospitals -- and still made it home in time to celebrate the holiday with his wife and daughters.

"He was a Southern gentleman who always addressed the women as `ma'am,'" said Virginia Smith-Woehlke, his secretary for 42 years, who lives in Linthicum. "It was a family practice -- a mother, her daughter -- and then the daughter would have her babies. "

"It always thrilled him when a patient would come up at a restaurant and show him a son or a daughter he had delivered," said another daughter, Nancy L. Shell of Greenville.

Nancy Shell recalled that during a blizzard in the 1950s, an ambulance bringing an expectant mother to St. Agnes got stuck in a snowdrift off Caton Avenue. Dr. Shell left the hospital and delivered the child safely in the ambulance.

After retiring in 1987, he remained on the staff of St. Agnes for several more years. He also enjoyed playing bridge and reading.

Services were held yesterday.

In addition to his daughters, survivors include a brother, Vernon Shell of Winter Haven, Fla.; and a sister, Frances Drury of Collierville, Tenn. His wife of 55 years died in 2000.

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