Dr. Edyth H. Schoenrich, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health faculty member for more than 50 years who had an insatiable appetite for adventure, died Sept. 12 from congestive heart failure at her home in Ruxton. She was 101.
“Edyth was a force of nature and just amazing,” said Ellen J. MacKenzie, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “I received so many emails from colleagues and former students commenting on what an incredible mentor she had been and always had time to talk to students. A faculty member commented that he didn’t meet Edyth until she was 95, but would always carry her voice in his head. She remained totally engaged until the end and was always a person ahead of her time."
The former Edyth Hull, daughter of Edwin John Hull, a chemical engineer, and his wife, Maud Mable Kelly Hull, a homemaker, was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, where she graduated from high school.
An interest in science began early in her life, as she explained in an interview with Changing the Face of Medicine.
“The story began in my sixth year in elementary school, when our natural sciences teacher, who was gifted in opening the minds of young people, inspired our class about the wonders of the life process,” Dr. Schoenrich said.
“Her classroom was always full of exciting living events such as sprouting seeds, tadpoles turning into frogs, and other wonders. At that age I developed an irresistible and all-encompassing desire to understand the life process,” she said. “I fixed upon the prospect that the profession of medicine would answer all my questions. Hence, my trajectory into medical school. I will comment that I am still seeking answers to many of the questions I had as a child.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree in 1941 from Duke University, where she did graduate work in psychology, and received her medical degree in 1947 from the University of Chicago, where she was one woman of three in a class of 75.
Between 1948 and 1952, Dr. Schoenrich completed an internal medicine internship and residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and served as chief resident her final year.
In 1953, she joined the department of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and then began working in outpatient clinics where she said the hospitalized patients she treated “had their disease processes creeping up on them for years before I saw them in crisis, and they were going to live with the consequences of these disease processes for the rest of their lives, whether they were going to live two more days or another 20 years.”
While on the staff of the old Baltimore City Hospitals, now Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, from 1963 to 1966, she became an advocate for comprehensive care for severely ill patients who were confined for lengthy hospitalizations.
In 1953, she was appointed an instructor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and in 1966 was named an assistant professor. In 1964, she began teaching at what is now the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
In 1969, Dr. Schoenrich decided to pursue a master’s degree in public health at what was then the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. In 1971, she was appointed director of of the administration of the chronically ill and aging, part of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where she was in charge of all state programs for disease control and prevention, and also responsible for directing three hospitals for chronic disease and rehabilitation and two tuberculosis hospitals.
From 1974 to 1977, she held appointments at Johns Hopkins as director of public health administration, and in 1977 became the first female associate dean at Johns Hopkins University when the Bloomberg School named her associate dean for academic affairs, a position she held until 1986.
Dr. Schoenrich then worked as director of Part-Time Professional Programs, which helped working physicians and health care professionals complete further medical studies. From 1986 until 2018, she was deputy chair of the Master in Public Health program.
She was a fellow of the American College of Physicians and the American College of Preventive Medicine, and was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 2005. She also maintained leadership roles with the American Public Health Association, American Hospital Association, and the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of the State of Maryland.
Her work brought her recognition with the Ernest Lyman Stebbins Medal and the Golden Apple Teaching Award from Johns Hopkins, and in 1996 the Bloomberg School established the Edyth H. Schoenrich Professorship in Preventive Medicine and the Edyth Schoenrich Scholarship.
“I knew her as a faculty member for 30 years, and she had two nicknames, Mother Hen and Speedy Edie,” said Marie Diener-West, chair of the Master in Public Health program at Bloomberg.
“She was Mother Hen because of her kindness and compassion, and Speedy Edie because her seeking of new knowledge well into her 90s never failed,” Dr. Diener-West said. “And her spirit of adventure whether it was hot-air ballooning, new public health programs, curricula, or the adventures of teaching.”
Both Dr. Mackenzie and Dr. Diener-West shared the opinion that saying no to Dr. Schoenrich was never an option.
"If she asked you to do something, you couldn’t say no, " Dr. Mackenzie said. “She was tough love and always wanted to motivate people so they could do better."
“Her passion was for her students, and she really believed they would make the world a better place,” said her daughter, Lola Schoenrich of Minneapolis.
In addition to an accomplished life in medicine, Dr. Schoenrich had a fearless adventurous side, taking up hot-air ballooning in the 1980s, said her son, Olaf A. Schoenrich of Silver Spring.
“She had earned her pilot’s license while in college and was always interested in flying and always wanted to go hot-air ballooning,” he said.
She and her husband, Carlos Schoenrich, a psychologist whom she married in 1942, were visiting friends one weekend in Connecticut when their hosts asked what they wanted to do, and Dr. Schoenrich wasted no time answering, “I’d like to go for a ride in a hot-air balloon.”
“They knew a balloon pilot who picked them up and landed in front of a country club, where they stepped out, and went in for dinner,” her son said. “That was her first flight.”
Thereafter, Dr. Schoenrich vigorously pursued hot-air ballooning trips throughout Europe.
“One of her favorite trips was in Switzerland where the air is calm and cold and you can fly over snow-covered mountains for hours,” her son said. “She was a person who always wanted to try new things.”
Another time, while ballooning over Switzerland, the pilot wanted to bring the balloon down and tap the top of lake waters.
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“She was in her mid-80s and we were in Gstaad, Switzerland, and she wanted to go parasailing, where you attach wings and jump off of a mountain,” said Ms. Schoenrich who was not so keen on the idea. “She wasn’t able to do it eventually because the weather was bad. She was an incredibly adventurous person.”
A resident of Boyce Avenue in Ruxton for 55 years, Dr. Schoenrich, a longtime opera fan and patron of the Metropolitan Opera Company, enjoyed taking the train to New York to attend performances.
Her husband died in 2002.
Burial was private, and because of the pandemic, plans for a celebration-of-life gathering are incomplete.