June 11, 1926 ~ January 31, 2019

Born in: Abingdon, VA,
Resided in: Asheville, North Carolina

Mary Helen McConnell Schwarzkopf, MD, 92, pediatrician, wife, mother, mentor and friend to many, died peacefully of congestive heart failure at the Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community in Asheville, NC on Thursday, January 31, 2019. Mary Helen Schwarzkopf was born in Abingdon, VA on June 11, 1926, the daughter and second child of John Thomas McConnell and Helen Harton McConnell. She lived in Abingdon until the age of three when her family moved to Asheville, NC. She attended first and second grades at Valley Springs School and third grade at the historic Biltmore School and, thereafter, moved to Brevard where her mother taught French at Brevard College. Her family moved to Washington, DC when she was twelve years old, and her brother and only sibling, John Thomas McConnell, Jr died during her first year there, leaving her an only child. In Washington she attended Gordon Junior High School, Western High School, and earned B.S. and M. D. degrees at George Washington University. She completed her internship at Gallinger Municipal Hospital and the District of Columbia General Hospital and her pediatric residency at Children’s Hospital, Washington, DC and the Bowman Grey School of Medicine at North Carolina Baptist Hospital, Winston-Salem, NC. She met her future husband, Robert A. Barnett, in medical school. Their marriage in 1948 ended in divorce. Her first and only child, a daughter, Helen Harton McConnell, was born just before her graduation from medical school. In 1971 she married Asheville insurance agent, Ralph H. Schwarzkopf, who predeceased her in 2016 after 45 years of marriage. Mary Helen Schwarzkopf set her sights high while a teenager in Washington, DC and planned to become a medical doctor—a goal that directed her course until she achieved her desired objective. On September 1, 1955 she opened her pediatrics practice in Asheville, NC in the McGeachy Building in Biltmore Plaza and moved in 1958 to the new Medical-Dental Building at 675 Biltmore Avenue. In the early days of her practice she was one of only four pediatricians in Asheville, all of whose names began with the letter “M”: McAlpine, McGuffin, Metcalf and McConnell! She loved her work and embraced major responsibilities in the medical community from the outset of her career. Highlights include: • Involvement in discussions in Buncombe County Medical Society on the treatment of emotional problems of children (1958) • First Director of the Poison Control Center at Memorial Mission Hospital which provided a complete reference resource on ingredients, symptoms and antidotes for products (1962). • Committee Chair, Buncombe County Stop Polio Committee—a sugar cube vaccination campaign designed to end the threat of polio in Western North Carolina that was believed to be the largest regional drive in the country (sic Asheville Citizen Times; March-May, 1963). • Chairman, Stop Measles Committee vaccination program, sponsored by the Buncombe County Medical Society in which two-thirds of the children of susceptible populations received the recently developed Schwarz-strain vaccine (September, 1966). • Clinical Instructor in Pediatrics, for Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC), UNC School of Medicine Family Practice Center, Asheville, NC, and for Family Nurse Practitioner program with clinical rotation through her office (1976-1981). • Child Medical Examiner, Buncombe County Child Protection Team, for Child Medical Evaluation Program, Chief Medical Examiner’s Office, Chapel Hill, NC (1990). She retired on August 31st , 1991, exactly 36 years after beginning her private pediatrics practice in Asheville. In retirement she continued to extend her energies to the well-being of children by such activities as participating in an annual “Walk for Children” benefit for Caring for Children, Inc. Medical memberships included: the American Medical Association, the North Carolina Medical Society, and the North Carolina Pediatric Society. She was Chief of Pediatric Staff of both Memorial Mission Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital and was on the medical staff of both Thoms Rehabilitation Center and Asheville Orthopedic Hospital. She served on the following committees at Memorial Mission and St. Joseph’s Hospitals: Credentials, Medical Administrative, Utilization Review, Education, Library and Public Health. Volunteer work to benefit the lives of children played a prominent role in Dr. McConnell’s life from the outset of her medical career. When she learned in the 1950’s about the Eliada Home for Children, an orphanage in Asheville, she visited and immediately fell in love with the children there. For nearly four decades she provided pro-bono annual physicals and donated medicines for children at the home who had no medical coverage. For the staff she held annual first aid and wellness sessions and provided physicals to houseparents. According to the Asheville Citizen-Times (May, 1965), a small boy one day told the clinic nurse, “I want the pretty girl doctor to see me,” and Dr. McConnell was duly flattered. At Thoms Rehabilitation Center she offered pro-bono medical care to children with disabilities throughout her career. Recognized as an expert on child abuse, she served on the Child Protection Team of the Buncombe County Health Department. Further volunteer work for children included the Family Services Center, Caring for Children, the Irene Wortham Day Care Center, the Buncombe County Association for Retarded Children, the Blue Ridge Mental Health Center and the Buncombe County Medical Society. In the Asheville community she served as chair of the board of the Asheville Chamber Music Series and also volunteered at the Asheville Community Theater and for the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Dr. McConnell’s work was acknowledged by the 1987 Alan-Keith Lucas Friend of Children Award of the North Carolina Child Care Association, given for significant impact on the lives of families and children in the state. She was nominated for this award by the Eliada Home for Children. On June 26, 2015 Eliada presented her with the Dr. Lucas B. Compton 2015 Founder’s Award in recognition of outstanding commitment to helping children succeed. In her personal life, Mary Helen Schwarzkopf pursued many varied interests. She was a member of the Arden Presbyterian Church for 64 years. Throughout her career she devoted much of her time off to travel around the globe, fully researching the history, culture, art, music and food of each region she planned to visit. She visited countries that are no longer open to Americans such as Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. Her greatest passion after retirement was gardening. She landscaped her entire property with rhododendron, helleri holly, boxwood, various mountain species and thousands of bulbs and created an intricate boxwood garden where children loved to run through the maze. She also planted a large-scale vegetable garden and grew many varieties of roses and other flowers. One of her greatest loves was classical music. She listened to LP records at home from her sizeable music library and attended every classical concert offered in Asheville. She was an avid supporter of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra, the Asheville Chamber Music Society and the Swannanoa Chamber Music Society. One of her joys after retirement was to take classes in music history at the College for Seniors at UNC-Asheville where she wrote insightful papers on the masterworks of the great composers. She had a special love for chamber music and became the chair of the Asheville Chamber Music Society and was instrumental in bringing the renowned Amadeus String Quartet to Asheville. Among her favorite composers were Beethoven, Mozart, Mahler, Brahms, Schubert and Dvorak. Her love for fine art was a close second to her love for music. She visited the notable art museums in every world city she visited and studied her favorite artists in depth. Among those artists she most admired and loved were John Constable, Rembrandt, Pieter Breugel, Jan Van Dyke, Vermeer, Murillo, Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, the wood carving of Grinling Gibbons and American artists Will Henry Stevens and Sallie Middleton. An avid photographer, she took thousands of pictures of the countries she visited and was never without her camera at every family or social event to record the happenings for posterity. After retirement, she also purchased the equipment required to cut her own mats and to assemble frames. She loved trying out new recipes, especially preparing the cuisine of a country she had just visited. She mastered the art of baking biscotti and German stollen and prepared Russian and Ukrainian dishes, Italian desserts, Austrian Sachertorte, Swiss raclette and countless other regional foods. She was also a master seamstress and sewed all of the draperies for her home and even upholstered some of the furniture. She loved the mountains of Western North Carolina and enjoyed nothing more than exploring the most treacherous, winding one-lane roads high up in the hills. She also loved swimming and hiking. Mary Helen Schwarzkopf is survived by her daughter, Helen H. McConnell of Washington, DC, her stepsons Ralph Schwarzkopf (Christina) of Knoxville, TN and S. Kent Schwarzkopf of Fletcher, NC, her step grandchildren R. Scott Schwarzkopf (Jill) of Arden, NC and Lara Winterberger (Jeff) of Knoxville, TN and four step great grandchildren, Kara and Courtney Black and Mary Rose and Reid Schwarzkopf. Her loving feline companion of more than twenty years, Boots, also survives her and now resides as the “cat of St. Giles Chapel” at Deerfield. A celebration of Mary Helen’s life followed by a reception will take place on Saturday, February, 16, 2019 at 11:00 am at St. Giles Chapel at Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community, 1617 Hendersonville Road, Asheville, NC 28803. Interment will be private. Groce Funeral Home at Lake Julian, 72 Long Shoals Road, Arden, NC is assisting the family. A memorial guest register is available at www.grocefuneralhome.com Donations in memory of Mary Helen Schwarzkopf may be directed to Sleep Tight Kids (http://sleeptightkids.org), a charity founded in 2009 by Mary Helen’s step granddaughter, Jill Schwarzkopf, which provides comfort to poor children in more than nine counties in Western North Carolina by providing more than 10,000 nighttime items such as blankets, pajamas, dental care, stuffed animals and clothing. Gifts should be sent to 72 Baldwin Road, Arden, NC 28704. The family wishes to acknowledge the superb care Dr. McConnell received from CarePartners Hospice and from the staff in assisted living at Deerfield. We are forever grateful.

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Guestbook

  1. The gifts of love and compassion that Mary Helen gave to so many people in our world through her medical practice and her life will live on forever as will her presence in spirit among us who now grieve her passing today but who also celebrate a life so well lived. Your love, Mary Helen, is your enduring legacy to us all.

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  2. Dr. McConnell was my physician from birth til I turned 16. I was born in October 1955. So I was one of her first patients in Asheville. I loved going to see her. I am sorry for your loss. She was an amazing woman.

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  3. I was one of the countless children from Eliada Home who received medical care from Dr. McConnell. I remember her compassion and concerned directives as I went through my teen years.

    God bless your family with a sense of His comforting presence in your loss. God bless Dr. McConnell’s memory.

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  4. Dr. McConnell was our pediatrician growing up in a family with 4 siblings. She often came to our house when we were sick and my mother was deeply grateful for her expertise later becoming a good friend. We will miss her and extend our deepest sympathies to Helen and her family. She leaves quite a legacy to the Asheville community and all those she helped throughout the years.

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  5. Dr. McConnell was my doctor during my teen-aged years and a friend of my Mother, Dr. Cornelia Ann Serota. Such a vibrant and accomplished woman and sorely missed.

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  6. I’ve got to know of Mary Helen since her former husband was alive. I cared for both deeply. They were so funny arguing in a funny way back and forth.. this was around 2016. Mary Helen was always in her garden everytime I arrived.. Lol. She was a treat to be around. I loved her pure spirit. I got to come back to her life in December. I was privileged to be around her even in a different state of mind. Always so sweet and kind. Always smiling to everything. I’m going to miss her sweet person. My condolences to her daughter Helen.. she deeply cared for her.. made sure she was taken care of. My condolences

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  7. Dr McConnell was our family pediatrician when I was a young mother in the 1960’s. My father-in-law, Dr Samuel Crow recommended her and she was my first experience with a female doctor. She became a role model for our children and for all her patients. Later I knew her as Mary Helen and will always remember her lovely smile and gracious manner. I recall her being in her late 80’s and still attending an exercise class at the Biltmore Club. I will always remember her with love and affection. My husband Jerry and I send sympathy to Helen and to all her family.

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  8. So deeply inspired by Mary Helen’s spirit and thanking God for her life and
    inspiration to me and all whom she has touched.

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  9. My most sincere condolences go out to Dr. McConnell’s family. She was our pediatrician for all 3 of my children, beginning in 1974. I always had so much confidence in the care she gave to my children. She was a wonderful person, as well as a great physician, full of true kindness and compassion. She will be greatly missed by many.

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  10. Dr. McConnell was a wonderful, caring person.
    She truly cared for her patients and their families.
    She will be missed.
    She saved my life as an infant, and was a great help to my family as I grew
    up.
    She really made a difference in my life.
    I will always be grateful to her.

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  11. My sympathy to the family of this wonderful woman. She was my doctor through all of my childhood. I remember her so well. She helped instill in me a love of medicine. I worked in the lab t Mission Hospital and then for 28+ years with the organ/tissue/eye donor program. I met her again several years ago at a meeting. She was attending a pediatric meeting and we met in the lobby. She did remember me and my family and was so proud that I was involved in medicine. She said I still held her record for beginning to walk when I was between 7-8 months old. I pray that the family can find some comfort in knowing how much Dr. McConnell meant to so many people.

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  12. I was so sad to hear of Dr. McConnell’s passing. She was so sweet to take such good care of me when I was a child. I will never forget her smile. She will be truly missed.

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  13. Mary and my mother, June Hall LOVELL, met in Washington D. C. when they were 12 years old and became friends AND remained friends until June died in 2013… 74 years of friendship! What king could ask for more?
    They were adventurers and loved traveling together.
    I’m sure they are back together laughing up a storm!
    May GOD bless both of them. AMEN!

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  14. My condolences to Dr. Mary Helen. What a wonderful woman she was. Over 60 years ago she was my doctor and I loved her. Even after becoming a teen I stayed with her because I was afraid to go to anyone else. I was the biggest thing in her office but she said until I felt comfortable enough, I was welcome to keep coming. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful soul with me and so many others

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  15. Dr. McConnell was my pediatrician when I was little, over 60 years ago. I still have a small mouse that she gave me. It used used to sit on the desk in her office. She would make house calls sometimes and my sister gave her a kitten once. Thank you for making visits to the doctor’s office much more bearable for a little boy.

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  16. Dr. McConnell was my family’s pediatrician for the years we lived in Asheville. She took special care of my little sister, Rita, who had Thalassemia Major (Cooley’s Anemia). She took special interest in our family and especially little Rita. My parents LOVED her care and concern. I will always remember her home where we got to come and spend some of our Sunday afternoons. I remember her wedding to Ralph and her parents! What a special woman this was. I even got to speak to her a few years ago and ask her questions about Thalassemia for my Daughter who was doing a research paper on it. She was a doctor who did house calls!

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