At the heart of the Central West End there is a street called Children’s Place, but part of that street at the center of the medical campus will soon be named Nash Way. The change will honor a family whose legacy continues to define pediatric care in St. Louis. As two St. Louis pediatricians, we celebrate this well-deserved tribute as we mourn the loss of Dr. Homer Nash Jr., a consummate educator and renowned clinician whose name is synonymous with compassionate care.
By the time we arrived in St. Louis as pediatric specialists, the Nash family was already legendary here for its dedication to improving the health and well-being of children, particularly the underserved. We soon learned the family’s extraordinary story, starting with Dr. Homer E. Nash Sr., one of the first African American physicians, graduating medical school in 1910.
The medical careers of two of his children, Helen and Homer, brought them to St. Louis and forever changed this city for the better. Dr. Helen Nash did her residency at Homer G. Phillips Hospital and was made supervisor of pediatrics the minute she finished her training. She transformed care at that hospital and in 1949 became the first African American woman to join the attending staff at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where she helped develop one of the first specialized wards for premature infants.
She fought to get the best care for her patients — and for basic recognition of their humanity. Helen was also one of the first four African American physicians on the clinical faculty of Washington University School of Medicine and later served as acting dean of minority affairs for three years after her retirement from practice. She paved the way for others to follow her, creating a scholarship for St. Louis kids looking to pursue careers in medicine.
Dr. Homer E. Nash Jr. served in the U.S. Army in Italy during World War II and received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. When he returned, he went to medical school in Nashville and then moved to St. Louis to train under his sister at Homer G. Phillips.
Like Helen, he understood there were children in the community who wouldn’t have access to the same resources other area children did. So he dedicated himself to serving those children. He spoke to them with kindness and respect, and supported and listened to the adults who brought them in. He was a constant advocate for his patients, and they adored him.
Nash also made his mark beyond his private practice. He was on staff at St. Louis Children’s and Barnes-Jewish hospitals, and served on many committees and advisory boards. He was a clinical professor of pediatrics at Washington University and worked with the Community Outpatient Practice Experience to facilitate community pediatric practicums for WashU medical residents and for physician assistants and nurse practitioners in other programs.
With his trainees, Nash took the same approach he did with patients: sustained and compassionate one-on-one attention.
He practiced and taught well into his 80s, impacting the lives of countless children and students. We are so fortunate that the Nash legacy in St. Louis continues. Dr. Alison Nash, Homer’s daughter, took over his practice and now cares for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the patients who so loved her father. She has also been on staff at St. Louis Children’s since 1989 and, like her father, is a preceptor for the COPE program.
She helps train residents, and she mentors medical students, undergraduates and kids from the St. Louis Public Schools who are interested in medicine. As medical director of Healthy Kids Express, she sends mobile asthma and dental care, hearing and vision tests, and screenings for lead poisoning and anemia into the community.
The Nash family has shown us what it means to take seriously the health and specific needs of all members of our community. Nash Way will honor this extraordinary family and serve as a permanent testimonial of their service.
In February, the city approved a measure renaming Children's Place – between Euclid Avenue on the west to Taylor Avenue on the east -- as Nash Way, to celebrate the accomplishments and cultural impact of Dr. Helen Nash on the St. Louis region. Dr. Nash, Jr., passed away April 21, at age 96.
David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Gary A. Silverman, MD, PhD, is head of the Department of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine and pediatrician-in-chief at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.