P&S Journal: Fall 1994, Vol.14, No.3
Virginia Apgar: A Legend Becomes a Postage Stamp
By Bonita Eaton Enocha
To Virginia Apgar, The Doctor, the health of newborns was a professional commitment that brought her-and P&S-fame. To Virginia Apgar, The March of Dimes Executive, the prevention of birth defects motivated her with missionary zeal. To Virginia Apgar, The Musician, the quality of musical instruments was so important that she made her own instruments-stooping on one occasion to stealing wood from a Medical Center phone booth for an instrument.
And to Virginia Apgar, The Stamp Collector, her likeness on a definitive stamp in the U.S. Postal Service's Great Americans Series probably would have seemed ironic.
Ironic, too, because the quest for an Apgar stamp led by a Colorado pediatrician produced numerous articles in newspapers and other publications that kept the Apgar legend-and her legacy to help newborns and prevent birth defects-alive. Especially throughout the 1980s, when the campaign for an Apgar stamp was most active, articles about the stamp, Dr. Apgar, and the famous scoring system that bears her name were published in publications from coast to coast.
When the 20-cent Apgar stamp is released Oct. 24 during the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics in Dallas, Dr. Apgar's name will have been a part of medical history for more than 40 years, including the past 20 years since her death in August 1974 at age 65.
The October unveiling will mark a decade of effort to honor Dr. Apgar with a stamp. Dr. L. Joseph Butterfield, professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado and chairman of the committee that led the stamp campaign, says those years were spent building a coalition and recruiting advocates and supporters to personally lobby for the stamp. (See Dr. Butterfield's remembrance on page 21.)
Dr. Apgar's obituary in the Winter 1975 issue of the P&S Quarterly, predecessor of P&S Journal, related her impressive medical and non-medical credentials-1933 medical degree from P&S, 1959 master's degree in public health from Johns Hopkins, first professor of anesthesiology and first woman named a full professor at P&S, director of anesthesiology at P&S, faculty member at Cornell, lecturer in medicine at Johns Hopkins, and executive at the National Foundation of the March of Dimes.
"But these credentials don't tell the true story of the 'Ginny' we knew," wrote Dr. Leonard Brand'49, professor emeritus of clinical anesthesiology, in the obituary. "Anybody who met her had a 'Ginny' story to tell, whether it had to do with her interest in music, playing the violin and cello, or building her own string instruments. Or whether it had to do with her love of fishing.... There were stories about her stamp collecting and her love of baseball and golf. There were stories about her driving her automobile as if it was an airplane."
Although her name is not a household word, Dr. Apgar continues to have a strong presence in the medical world. The American Academy of Pediatrics gives an annual award called the Virginia Apgar Award in Perinatal Pediatrics.
In remarks at Dr. Apgar's memorial service in September 1974, Dr. L. Stanley James, professor emeritus of pediatrics and of obstetrics and gynecology until his death in August, called Dr. Apgar a student until the day she died. "Learning was the focal point of her life. Her curiosity was insatiable. ... She never became rigid. This rare quality enabled her to progress through life without becoming walled in by tradition or custom. It kept her young and vital. She started flying lessons a few years ago and even wanted to fly under the George Washington Bridge."