Sheila Ronkin, 61, of Philadelphia and Longport, N.J., a specialist in maternal fetal medicine who later became a clinical research leader at Pfizer, died Tuesday, Sept. 25, of pancreatic cancer at Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse.
In her first career, beginning in 1988, Dr. Ronkin directed and provided maternity care, prenatal diagnosis, and ultrasound imaging for expectant women at area hospitals. Those included Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Hahnemann University Hospital, Crozer-Chester Medical Center, Chester County Hospital, and Brandywine Hospital.
"She was very hands-on, personally seeing patients rather than being in the background reading reports," said her husband, Andrew Gerson, who is also a maternal fetal specialist. "She was very smart, she would know a patient from 18 months before. She focused on patients, identified with patients, and bonded with people."
In her second career, starting in 1998, Dr. Ronkin joined Wyeth, a pharmaceutical company, as medical director of women's health. Her focus was clinical research and development.
During almost two decades at the company, she contributed to the development of new medicines and studied medicines already on the market for possible new therapeutic uses.
"I worked with Sheila professionally in clinical development for several years," wrote Eric Maller, a Pfizer executive, in an online guestbook. "I always found her to be so smart, practical in her approaches, and a fierce advocate for patients, especially women, during and after her time working in women's health. Her dry humor, sharp intelligence and no-nonsense commitment to quality and safety in drug development are sorely missed."
When Pfizer acquired Wyeth in 2009, Dr. Ronkin was named assistant vice president of clinical development. In 2014, she became vice president of clinical sciences. In that role, she was responsible for design, conduct, interpretation, and reporting of clinical trials in the areas of rare diseases, renal disorders, and women's health.
"Although she was the head of it, you would never hear the word I," her husband said. "It would be, 'My team worked together to bring this medicine to market.'"
When Pfizer reorganized in 2016, she left to join BioMarin, a California-based biopharmaceutical innovator focusing on treatments for rare diseases driven by genetic causes. Her title was clinical research consultant. She retired in March for health reasons.
Born in Trenton, Dr. Ronkin graduated from Cherry Hill High School East in 1974 and earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Cornell University in 1978. She completed a medical degree at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey – New Jersey Medical School, Newark, in 1982.
She was offered internship and residency training in obstetrics and gynecology at Temple University Hospital. In a light moment, the program director asked a young resident already in the program to choose one of five candidates listed on index cards.
"Every Tuesday we had lunch with our chairman," Gerson said. "It was like Dad with the kids. So, he walks in, he hands me five cards. He says, 'Here, pick one.' Sheila's smile [on the card] was very engaging.
"I said, 'Here, take this one.' I thought it was a joke. He took her.'"
Dr. Ronkin joined the program in July 1982, and the two married in 1983. They had two children whom they raised in Merion.
While working and raising her family, Dr. Ronkin returned to school in 1996 and earned a master's degree in business administration and strategic planning at Haub School of Business of St. Joseph's University.
Her husband and children were at the center of Dr. Ronkin's life. They enjoyed vacations at their summer home in Longport.
When the family moved to Center City in 2011, she took long walks on city streets, her husband said.
She was an avid reader, knitter, weaver, traveler, and loved to engage in current political discussion. The couple went to independent films together. The last one they saw was RBG, a documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by daughter Lyssa Gerson Guy; son Alexander Gerson; her father, Seymour Ronkin; and three brothers.
Funeral services were Wednesday, Sept. 26.