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Dr. Paul Harper, 98, expert in child rearing

Dr. Paul A. Harper, retired professor and former chairman of the maternal and child health department and later founder of the population dynamics department at the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, died of pneumonia Saturday at the Broadmead retirement community in Cockeysville. He was 98.

Dr. Harper was not only an internationally recognized expert in child rearing, but also in the field of population growth in developing countries.

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Born and raised in Watertown, Conn., the son of a dairy farmer, he earned his bachelor's degree in 1926 from Dartmouth College and medical degree in 1931 from Yale University Medical School.

He served in the Army during World War II as chief of infectious diseases, working to eradicate malaria in the South Pacific theater, and attained the rank of colonel.

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While working as a pediatrician in Bridgeport and Fairfield, Conn., during the 1930s, Dr. Harper observed that most of his young patients weren't really ill.

"Many parents simply wanted guidance on normal child development and preventive health measures as they dealt with problems ranging from fussy eating habits and sibling rivalry to difficulties with sleep and toilet training," a 1998 profile in Johns Hopkins Public Health said of Dr. Harper's practice.

Because there was no authoritative reference for physicians or parents, Dr. Harper combined his experiences with research, which culminated in the 1962 publication of his book, Preventive Pediatrics, Child Health and Development.

"Dr. Harper rose to the challenge and spent 12 years separating fact from fiction and his book was the first on the subject to do more than merely list diseases. It offered guidance about healthy children and about public health services, including those for children with disabilities," the article said.

Dr. Harper brought a calming and practical tone to the subject of child-rearing, writing: "It is as if life were a hurdle race, with each hurdle representing a problem; after a hurdle comes a spot of smooth running and then the next hurdle."

He began his long association with Hopkins in the late 1940s, earning a master's degree in public health at what is now the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the next year establishing the school's Division of Maternal and Child Health.

He established a clinic in the late 1940s in the 700 block of Rutland Ave., near the hospital complex in East Baltimore, that provided 24-hour care to about 600 low-income children.

"Harper felt strongly that the clinic's emphasis should be on well-child care to train students in prevention and the problems of growth and development in healthy children," wrote Anne Kennedy in a 1998 monograph, Many Hidden Springs, commemorating the 50th anniversary of maternal and child health sciences at the school.

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Dr. Harper's pioneering work, "The Long-Term Study of Prematures," closely studied 500 premature and 500 full-term babies into childhood.

He became chairman of the maternal and child health care department at the school in 1961, and by then had also turned his attention to the inherent problems of rapid population growth in developing countries.

In 1959, he established a program in training in family planning in what is now Bangladesh. The program, which later grew at Hopkins into the United States' first department of population dynamics, was established with Dr. Harper as its first chairman in 1970. He retired in 1975.

"When I think of Paul Harper, I think of an incredible innovator who put together some real fundamental ideas on anticipatory child care. And then he brought the field of population studies to Hopkins," said Dr. Bernard Guyer, chairman of the Bloomberg's department of maternal and child health.

"He felt that population growth was an international issue and was a strong advocate for family planning. He brought those links of demography, economics and biology all together. He is a giant and we're standing on his shoulders," he said.

A longtime resident of Elmwood Road in Roland Park, Dr. Harper moved to Broadmead in 1997. He enjoyed taking long walks, and continued doing so well into his 90s. He also was a birdwatcher.

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Dr. Harper was a communicant of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., where a memorial service will be held in the chapel at 2 p.m. tomorrow.

Survivors include his wife of 65 years, the former Cornelia E. Edwards; a son, Paul E. Harper of Timonium; two daughters, Cornelia E. Harper of Baltimore and Eugenia Harper-Jones of Silver Spring; and four grandchildren.


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