Ruth Whittemore Fund

Est. 2006 by bequest of Dr. Ruth Whittemore.

Dr. Ruth Whittemore
Dr. Ruth Whittemore

A pediatric cardiologist responsible for saving the lives of thousands of New Haven area babies continued her contributions to the area through a bequest to The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

Ruth Whittemore, M.D., a noted cardiologist who provided pre- and post-operative care for infants termed "blue babies," bequeathed a percentage of her estate to The Community Foundation in an arrangement that followed the death of her long-time friend, Dr. Martha Leonard, a roommate and fellow alum of Johns Hopkins University where both received much of their medical training.

Both physicians were pediatricians in New Haven. Under an arrangement made by the two doctors, the first decedent’s estate would help pay for the apartment they shared until the remaining survivor passed away. When Dr. Whittemore died in December 2001 at age 84, her estate cared for Dr. Leonard until Dr. Leonard's passing in 2005.

A widely recognized pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Whittemore was part of a team of physicians at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1944 that performed the first surgery to increase oxygenated blood to a "blue baby." Dr. Whittemore, who was a pediatric resident at the time, was drawn to the field of pediatric cardiology from then on. She was one of the first fellows trained by Helen Taussig, "the mother of pediatric cardiology," and the designer of the "blue baby" operation.

Dr. Whittemore later moved to the Yale New Haven Hospital and Yale University School of Medicine where eventually she became a professor of Pediatrics. She remained at Yale until she retired, and in the New Haven area until the time of her death. While at Yale, she worked closely with Robert LaCamera, M.D., another pediatrician from New Haven.

“I came to New Haven in 1954 on a two-year Pediatric fellowship, one year of which was in Pediatric Cardiology arranged for by Dr. Whittemore,” recalled Dr. LaCamera. “She was the head of Pediatric Cardiology and became my boss for a year in 1955. I continued to work in the Pediatric Cardiac Clinic under her direction for the next 15 years.”

Dr. LaCamera knew Dr. Whittemore to be a “kind boss, but very demanding of high quality,” and one who served as an inspiration because of her quest for accuracy in diagnosis and care.

“Patient families loved her,” said Dr. LaCamera. “She didn’t just waltz into the room; say a few greetings and leave. A number of her patients became her family. She saved so many lives because of her wide knowledge of cardiology and expertise and observations of the children. She was an expert clinician. Her whole being was centered in providing good care for children with cardiac problems.”

Following the death of her mother, Dr. Whittemore invited Dr. Leonard to live with her, said Dr. LaCamera, because both shared a lot of interests beyond medicine. Both had a widespread circle of friends and colleagues and both became involved in philanthropy.

“This (philanthropy) was their way of caring for children, even after they retired,” he continued. “They each had their independent lives as well. At one time Dr. Leonard became an assistant to Ruth; then a co-worker, and then, a life-long friend.”

Dr. Whittemore was also a pediatrician for the State of Connecticut, tracking the health of all children in the state with heart murmurs.

With the decline in the world-wide incidence of rheumatic fever, Dr. Whittemore devoted more of her time to children with often deadly congenital cardiac abnormalities. She worked closely with Dr. William Glenn, professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Yale, to evaluate children's heart conditions and provided pediatric care before, during and after surgery.

“She loved music; was involved in Center Church where she was an original bell ringer and she and Martha sang in the Berkshire Choral Festival where amateur singers sing for a week,” said Dr. LaCamera. “Overall, in addition to her philanthropic nature, she was a very generous person.”

Dr. Whittemore's many honors and awards include fellowships in the American College of Cardiology and the New York Academy of Science; membership in Sigma Xi and the American Pediatric Society. In 1983, she received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Mount Holyoke College, and was designated Woman of the Year by the American Heart Association (Connecticut) in 1984. She was one of the first pediatricians to be certified by the American Board of Pediatric Cardiologists. She authored or co-authored 53 papers and chapters in textbooks and served on councils and committees of the Connecticut Affiliates of the American Heart Association.