Margaret Child, 99: Doctor raised kids before career, led Emory center

Dr. Margaret Child graduated from medical school in the early 1940s when few women became physicians. She later studied to be a biostatistician and epidemiologist and was a professor of preventative medicine and community health and director of the Atlanta Cancer Surveillance Center at Emory University in Atlanta. But her children remember her as a woman of many interests other than medicine, including athletic activities. The family recalls, in particular, that at age 77 on a dare, Child performed an inward jackknife dive.

“We thought that dive was pretty amazing,” said daughter Caroline Tucker of Hilton Head, South Carolina. “She was always very active and encouraged us to be. She was good at all the things she did, and she continued to do those things until she was very old.”

Dr. Margaret “Peg” Austin Child died in Atlanta on Aug. 9 at age 99. She was born in Newark, N. J., on May 16, 1917, to Cleland and Mabel Austin and grew up in Monctlair, N.J. In her youth, Child was an accomplished dancer, gymnast and student. She was also the beloved granddaughter of author Alexander Black, a pioneer in the motion picture industry.

Child graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College in 1938, where she was also captain of her intramural basketball team. She graduated from Cornell University Medical College in 1942, one of only three women in her medical school class. She married Dr. Charles Gardner Child III, who was a resident at Cornell Medical College, in 1941. The couple had six children and raised their family in New York City and Boston, then in Ann Arbor, Mich., when Charles Child was appointed chairman of the department of surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School in 1959.

Child earned a Master’s degree in public health from the University of Michigan in 1970 and started a career as a biostatistician and epidemiologist. She worked at the University of Michigan and the Michigan Cancer Foundation in Detroit.

In 1977, Emory University recruited her to become an assistant professor of preventative medicine and community health and director of the Atlanta Cancer Surveillance Center, where she worked until her retirement in 1983. During her tenure at the center, Child wrote several studies and articles including a national bladder-cancer study in 1979 on the apparent link between bladder cancer and cigarette smoking and heavy use of artificial sweeteners.

“Our mother didn’t practice medicine after graduating from medical school but did what many women did at that time, had and raised her children,” Tucker said. “It wasn’t until she was in Michigan, enrolled in the university’s School of Public Health and received her degree in public health, that she started to work as an epidemiologist and biostatistician.”

After retirement, Child enjoyed many activities and was an avid world traveler. She visited all seven continents, reaching Antarctica during an ocean cruise in her early 80s. She was also an enthusiastic athlete her entire life, encouraging her children to enjoy outdoor activities, from hiking to hockey.

Steve Kambly of Leesburg, Va., a friend of the Childs, recalled that his brother, Paul, was an “enthusiastic player” in Child family hockey games in Michigan.

In addition to Tucker, survivors include daughters Helen Child of Atlanta and Elizabeth Child of Ann Arbor, and sons Cleland Child of Newnan and Charles Child of Ann Arbor. A daughter, Margaret, died in 1972.