C.t. Beecham, 84, Gynecologist

Posted: December 14, 1990

Dr. Parviz Hanjani remembers Dr. Clayton T. Beecham as distinguised, knowledgeable and very, very tough.

When Hanjani was being tested for his certification in obstetrics and gynecology, Dr. Beecham, a member of the board of examiners, grilled him for 50 minutes about why he would recommend a certain treatment rather than the one favored by Dr. Beecham.

"He said the results were as good or better his way. He took it personally," said Hanjani, now chief of gynecology and oncology at Temple University Medical Center.

That was the Dr. Beecham known to his friends and colleagues. He began challenging accepted methods from the time he set out in medicine in the 1930s. As a result, he became a pioneer in the treatment of women's diseases in the 25 years he spent as a professor and director of gynecology and oncology at Temple University and the 22 years at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa.

It was only three years ago that Dr. Beecham, 84, closed his appointment book for good. On Tuesday, he died at home on his 100-acre farm in Danville, Pa.

Dr. Beecham, born in Ladd, Ill., in 1907, received his bachelor's, master's and medical degrees from the University of Minnesota. He spent three years at the former Kensington Hospital for Women and a brief time at the University of Pennsylvania's hospital before settling in at Temple in 1940.

It was there in 1952 that Dr. Beecham made a discovery that saved the lives of countless new mothers.

He found that nitrogen mustard, a chemical then used to control some forms of cancer, was effective against a rare cancer of the placenta, said Dr. Beecham's son, Jackson B. of St. Johnsbury, Vt., also a gynecologist specializing in oncology.

"Until the 1950s, anyone who had this disease died and died very quickly," said Jackson Beecham. "Young women would go from the blessed event to tragedy and death. We now know it's one of the most highly treatable cancers and that came about in the last 40 years."

Jackson Beecham said that his father "was extraordinarily committed to women's health."

He took up the cause because he was good at it and it was a field that was ''sorely neglected," said Thomas Royer, medical director at Geisinger Medical Center."He also loved the technical skills required to do gynecological surgery," Royer said. "He loved that challenge."

Dr. Beecham was a strong proponent of preventive medicine for women. He urged his patients to have pap tests done and was always looking for better treatments to help women through menopause.

Jackson Beecham said that his father's patients "were incredibly devoted to him."

But in recent years, his strong opinions and his straight talk - especially about childbirth - sometimes got him into trouble, his son said. Those who knew him said that Dr. Beecham was criticized as old-fashioned because he did not espouse natural childbirth, midwife deliveries or home births.

Though medicine consumed most of his time, Dr. Beecham loved fly-fishing at a Maine wilderness lake, where the family spent a month every summer.

Still, he found time to read and to write medical articles, essays and even a couple of mystery novels published by a vanity press.

But the favorite occupation of Dr. Beecham, who stood about 6-foot-1 and weighed about 200 pounds, was digging a farm pond, planting trees and halting the erosion that had gouged the fields on his farm.

His passion was getting on his tractor and mowing the grass around the family's 2 1/2-story house, said his daughter, Nina Beecham Stratton of West Chester. "And working in his enormous garden." There he grew corn, potatoes, squash and tomatoes, which he often sent home with his children and grandchildren when they visited.

Dr. Beecham retired as head of the department of obstetrics-gynecology at Geisinger in 1972. He stopped performing surgery in 1977.

Besides his son and daughter, Dr. Beecham is survived by his wife, Anne Miller Beecham; another son, Richard K., and six grandchildren.

A private funeral will be held tomorrow. A memorial service is being planned for the spring.

Donations may be made to the House of Care c/o Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, Pa. 17821.

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