William H. Erb Jr., 78, of Rose Valley, a surgeon and philanthropist, died July 24, of pneumonia at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.
For three decades, Dr. Erb practiced general surgery at Taylor Hospital, Riddle Hospital, and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. But his chief allegiance was to Taylor, where an operating suite is named after his father, the noted surgeon William Henry Erb Sr.
The seed for a life of healing was sown when Dr. Erb's father lost his father to the flu pandemic of 1918. The tragedy inspired Dr. Erb's father to study medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and led to a long career as head of Penn Services at the Philadelphia General Hospital and the first chief of surgery at Riddle, according to the spring 2018 Penn Medicine Magazine.
Dr. Erb followed in his father's educational, career, and philanthropic footsteps. As a child, he had the opportunity to meet celebrated physicians such as Jonathan Rhoads, longtime chair of surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, the magazine reported.
"At Penn, I was thrilled to be learning from the very luminaries that I met earlier in life, and with a father I so admired I really never considered any career outside of medicine," Dr. Erb told the publication.
After completing medical training, Dr. Erb joined his father's practice, Baker, Erb, and Cronin, in Ridley Park. He taught medical students at Penn as his father had done. He followed his father's leadership example, becoming president of Taylor's medical staff in 1987 and vice chairman of its surgery department in 1990.
Born in Philadelphia to the elder Dr. Erb and Sarah Ann Smith, Dr. Erb grew up in Ridley Park, across from Taylor Hospital. He graduated from Mercersburg Academy in 1958. Dr. Erb graduated from Haverford College with a bachelor's degree in history in 1962 and earned a medical degree from Penn in 1966.
In 1963, Dr. Erb married Ursula Koenig from Assmannshausen, Germany, in her hometown along the Rhine River. The two met at a basketball game at Haverford College after she came to the United States to study English.
He interned at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut in 1967 and spent four years as a surgical resident at Penn Presbyterian in Philadelphia. The residency was interrupted by several years that he spent in the Navy during the Vietnam War. He was honorably discharged with the rank of lieutenant commander.
After his military service, Dr. Erb dedicated himself to career and family.
"My father had a wonderful bedside manner," said daughter Margit Erb. "I can't tell you how many patients have said how kind and empathetic he was. He took me to visit nursing homes on holidays. The relief he would bring to these elderly people in nursing homes is something I'll always remember."
Wherever he went, Dr. Erb took photographs of his wife and three daughters. "When someone takes a lot of pictures, it shows you what he cares about," his daughter said. "He inspired me to go into the photography world."
In 2000, Dr. Erb retired and devoted himself to philanthropy. He served the Ridley Park community as a board member of the Taylor Community Foundation (now the Community's Foundation), where he focused on improving hospice care and raising money for academic scholarships.
Like his father, Dr. Erb was a firm believer in the importance of education. He continued that legacy by supporting Penn's William H. Erb Scholarship Fund for deserving students.
"My father and I agreed on the obvious need for good doctors," Dr. Erb told the Penn magazine, "and while we didn't receive scholarships ourselves, we believe they are essential for helping pave the way for many bright students. I am proud that my family is continuing to play a part in helping the school maintain its tradition of excellence."
Dr. Erb also supported the Erb Lecture begun by his father at the Philadelphia Academy of Surgery. The elder Dr. Erb left a bequest in his will to the academy, and the younger Dr. Erb has made similar provisions. The funds are used to bring "national thought-leaders in the field of surgery to Philadelphia," the academy said in an email.
In retirement, Dr. Erb traveled throughout Europe and the United States. His favorite destinations were Assmannshausen, Germany; Avalon, N.J., and Skytop, in the Poconos, where he spent holidays with family. He also enjoyed gardening and swimming.
Besides his daughter Margit and his wife, Ursula, he is survived by daughters Heidi Anderson and Kristin Gusick; four grandchildren; and two sisters.
A visitation from 8:30 to 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1, will be followed by a 10 a.m. Funeral Mass and life celebration at St. John Chrysostom Catholic Church, 617 S. Providence Rd., Wallingford. Burial will be private.