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Dr. Joseph T. Michels, obstetrician who delivered more than 4,300 babies, dies

Dr. Joseph T. Michels, a retired Baltimore obstetrician who delivered more than 4,300 babies in a 40-year career at Mercy Medical Center, St. Joseph Medical Center and the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, died Aug. 30 in Charlottesville, Va., of complications from multiple strokes, his family said.

The 65-year Baltimore resident was 91.

A longtime parishioner at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen who loved the Baltimore Orioles and Colts but could never bring himself to root for the Ravens, Dr. Michels was a traditional gentleman who wore a tie at dinner and worked all hours, “like your old-time doctor,” said his stepson, Patrick Gallagher, of Washington.

“In the middle of the night, a phone would ring, he’d put on a tie and have to go deliver a baby,” Mr. Gallagher said.

Joseph Theodore Michels was born Aug. 1, 1927, in Dallastown, Pa., to Joseph and Ella Mary Michels, a civil engineer and a schoolteacher, respectively. The eldest of four, he grew up in Red Lion, near York, and earned a bachelor’s degree from Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg in 1948 and a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1952.

Tragedy struck the family in Dr. Michels’ freshman year of college, when the two youngest brothers, John and Paul, both age 10, were caught in an undertow and drowned in the ocean while on vacation on the Jersey Shore.

“He went to college in ‘45; I went in ‘46,” said their other brother, David Michels, 89, who lives in Timonium. “One year my mother had four at home; the next year she had none.”

The family of devout Catholics leaned heavily on their faith, Mr. Michels said. When people would express their condolences to their mother, she often responded that her two youngest children “just saw God early.”

“That’s all there was,” Mr. Michels said.

After earning his doctorate, Dr. Michels married his first wife, Barbara Romesberg Michels, in 1952, and the pair moved to Baltimore and raised four children in Homeland.

Dr. Michels interned at what was then Mercy Hospital, before joining the Air Force and being stationed at McChord Air Force Base in Washington state for two years.

He returned to Baltimore and began a private obstetrics/gynecology practice based at Mercy Hospital, Mr. Michels said.

His family wasn’t surprised by his choice of profession. A great-uncle in Red Lion had been the town doctor, and Dr. Michels had felt called to the vocation from a young age, his brother said.

He had the grades for it, too. Dr. Michels had been first in his class at Red Lion High School and made the distinguished honor roll, his brother said.

“It was one of those things that was just sort of meant to be,” Mr. Michels said. “If he wouldn’t’ve been accepted to medical school, I don’t know what he would have done.”

Barbara Michels died of cancer after 29 years of marriage, and Dr. Michels married Mary Gallagher, a widow with five children of her own, in 1984. The pair, who had long known each other, reconnected through neighborhood friends, said Mr. Gallagher, a stepson of Dr. Michels.

Her youngest children were teenagers, and while Dr. Michels didn’t seek to exert authority over them, he set an example for them in his own quiet way, Mr. Gallagher said.

“He never tried to act like our father, which endeared him more to us,” he said.

Still, Dr. Michels always wore a tie for dinner, and didn’t allow cellphones at the dinner table or baseball caps or headphones in the house.

“Your family’s there to speak to,” he used to say, according to Mr. Gallagher.

Their children often joked that Dr. Michels, a staunch Republican, and Mrs. Michels, a liberal Democrat, voted on the same day at the same place — but drove in different cars. “They peacefully cohabitated and agreed to disagree,” Mr. Gallagher said.

Dr. Michels was among the first doctors at Mercy who was willing to deliver African-American babies in the 1950s, his stepson said. “He had no problem with that at all,” Mr. Gallagher said.

Mary Gallagher Michels died in 2005, shortly after Dr. Michels retired and moved into Mercy Ridge Retirement Community. He lived at the retirement community in Lutherville for more than 10 years before moving to Charlottesville to be near his youngest daughter, Dr. Suzanne Michels, Mr. Michels said.

Dr. Michels’ hobbies included photography, traveling and surf fishing at the Outer Banks, N.C. He was a longtime Notre Dame football fan (three of his four children and five grandchildren attended the university), was the lector for the Mercy Hospital radio Mass for many years and was a Knight of Malta, his family said.

If Dr. Michels kept a tally of how many babies he’d delivered in his career, he never mentioned it to his brother, who said he was astonished when he eventually learned the total: 4,388. But his personality made him a popular doctor, Mr. Michels said.

“He instilled confidence in people,” he said. “To know him was to like him. That reflected in his practice.”

A service was held Sept. 15 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

In addition to his brother, daughter and stepson, Dr. Michels is survived by three other children, Dr. Joseph T. Michels Jr., of Spokane, Wash.; Lisa M. Shadid, of Kansas City, Mo.; and Timothy K. Michels of Baltimore. He is also survived by his four other stepchildren, Mary Ellen Barthelme of Timonium; Francis X. Gallagher Jr., of Baltimore; John J. Gallagher of Washington, D.C.; and James L. Gallagher of Fairfax Station, Va.; as well as 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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