Dr. Edwin H. T. Besson, a retired pediatrician who was the former chairman of the St. Agnes Hospital pediatric department, died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, Dec. 4 at his Ellicott City home. He was 85.
In a memoir, he recalled that after his birth in Carbondale, Pa., he often moved with his family and wound up living in the small town of Stockton in Worcester County. His family had suffered economic hardship in the Depression and they lost their home. Dr. Besson said that despite the poverty, some of the happiest times of his life were those spent on the Eastern Shore. He often returned to the town and revisited the sights he knew as a child.
After his 1943 graduation from Snow Hill High School, he signed up to go to college in an Army program. He was selected to go to William Beaumont General Hospital in El Paso, Texas, to be trained as a surgical technician for assignment to the hospital corps. He sailed across the Atlantic aboard the Queen Mary, which had been converted into a troop carrier.
He was assigned to Normandy, France, and put on a hospital ambulance train that ran from the front lines to Paris.
In February 1945, he was reassigned to Normandy, where he helped operate what would become a hospital for prisoners of war later that year. He spent the final part of his tours in Le Havre, France, and worked in a medical station as he awaited being sent home.
After his 1945 discharge, he took a job washing windows and waxing floors at the old Naval Auxiliary's Chincoteague Air Station. He enrolled at Washington College in Chestertown, where he earned a chemistry degree and met his future wife, Pauline " Polly" Koumjian. He earned a degree at the University of Maryland's School of Medicine. While still in medical school, he worked at Franklin Square Hospital, then located in West Baltimore, and at the emergency room at the Bethlehem Steel Corp. in Sparrows Point.
He interned at St Agnes Hospital and had a pediatric internship at Johns Hopkins Hospital's Harriet Lane Clinic. In 1958 he finished his pediatric residency at what was then University of Maryland Hospital and founded a private practice as a pediatrician. He spent his first 15 years at an office behind a barbershop at 910 Ingleside Ave. He moved to 1011 Frederick Ave. in Catonsville, where he practiced until his retirement in 2000.
"I patterned my practice after what he taught me," said Dr. Samuel R. Williams, a Catonsville pediatrician. "He was caring and had a calming effect on his patients. Some stayed so long, well into their 30s, he had to kick them out the door. He was generous with his time to us younger students."
Dr. Besson also had served as chairman of the pediatric department and head of the medical staff at St. Agnes.
"He was extremely well-versed. Doctors and nurses sent their children to him," said a friend, Dr. James Castellano, a retired obstetrician-gynecologist who lives in Hanover, Pa.
In the 1960s, he joined with volunteers headed by the Pallotine Fathers to travel to Brazil to a mission in Fatima do Sul. After he retired, he spent time working in a methadone clinic.
"His friends perhaps best knew him for his quick wit, love of history, and his love of Maryland and the Eastern Shore," said Stuart Cooper, of Baltimore, a son-in-law. "Ed never stopped his education. He loved to learn and always enjoyed an intellectual discussion, especially if it included a nice pipe or a good cigar and a great Scotch. He gave a lot and asked little in return."
Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Catonsville Presbyterian Church, 1400 Frederick Road.
Survivors include his wife of 60 years; two sons; John Besson of Oella and Dan Besson of Wellington, Fla.; two daughters, Becky Besson and Debbie Karrer, both of Baltimore; and five granddaughters.
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