Beloved OB-GYN, who 'delivered thousands,' dies at 99


Dr. Nathan Schnall, 99, a longtime Wyndmoor resident, retired chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the former Rolling Hill Hospital in Elkins Park, and a pioneering physician in reproductive health and family planning, died of heart failure June 2 at Sunrise Assisted Living in Abington. 

Schnall, one of three brothers who became medical doctors, delivered thousands of babies in several area hospitals until his retirement in the mid-1990s.

“Of the thousands of babies he delivered in 50 years, he never had an infant fatality, and he was very proud of this,” Schnall's daughter, Jane Beechman Segal, told us last week.

Schnall’s parents came from Europe just before he was born in 1924. One of seven children, he grew up on Second Street during the Great Depression and gave the welcoming address at the 1941 graduation ceremony at Benjamin Franklin High School. He served in the Army on U.S. soil during World War II and again at an Air Force base in Japan during the Korean War. 

Schnall graduated from what is now the Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine after he was discharged from the military. In his practice, Schnall often assisted Russian immigrants at no charge.

He married Maxine Swarttz in 1957. In 1966, she wrote a book about Schnall, “My Husband, the Doctor.” The couple raised daughters Ilene and Rona. After a divorce in 1977, Schnall married Marillyn “Dolly” Beechman, a local actress whom he had dated many years earlier.

“It’s hard for me to separate the losses of my incomparable mother and Nate the Great,” Segal said. We feel so incredibly lucky to have shared their lives, so well lived, two legends in their own right with so much brilliance and humanity and love for so long. We are the legacy and endeavor every day to make them proud.”

It was in the 1980s when the couple who hadn’t seen each other for 30 years reconnected and later married.

According to Claudia Beechman Cohen, Dolly's daughter, “My mother and I attended an event at Temple University,” Suddenly, a man came from behind and put his hand on my mother’s shoulder. He said, 'Dolly? Dolly Lush?' My mother turned around and exclaimed, 'Nate! Nate Schnall?' 

“The next day, Nate tried to call my mother, but her number was unlisted. He called my grandmother who was happy to give him the number. My mother was glad to hear from him. They started dating, and when I became pregnant with my first child, he agreed to be my doctor. He delivered Beryl by Caesarean section and later, my son Reid as well.”

Nathan and Dolly Schnall married, and in 1984, moved to Wyndmoor. They were married for 37 years. Nathan Schnall was fluent in Hebrew, studied the Torah and Jewish history closely, and enjoyed preparing family members to become bar and bat mitzvahs. He was active at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park.

Dolly had a lengthy career as an actress, director and playwright and took courses in Latin at Chestnut Hill College. She was honored in 2008 as “Woman of the Year” by 1812 Productions, and she later received the Barrymore Award for Lifetime Achievement for Excellence in Theatre. 

The couple later moved to Sunrise Assisted Living. The Schnalls continued to dance and enjoy each other’s company every day for years even after Marillyn Schnall suffered a stroke. She continued to be lovingly cared for by her devoted husband.

He also “took incredible care of my sister, Laurie [Hope Beechman], throughout her nine years of living with cancer and later,” Segal said. 

(Author's note: Laurie Hope Beechman, of Wyndmoor, was a much-honored Broadway actress and singer who starred in, among other classics, “Les Miserables.” She died in 1998 at age 44. After her death, the West Bank Cafe Downstairs Theater Bar in New York was renamed the Laurie Beechman Theatre.)

Beatrice Dolly Segal, Nathan Schnall's granddaughter, told us, “My Pop Pop was, in a word, great! He was not physically imposing, but he stood larger than life in the eyes of his family, friends and peers. He was innovative, genius, fearless, commanding, sentimental and fair. He lightened times of seriousness with perfectly-timed jokes, and with all his endless accomplishments in medicine, he was most proud of and most humbled by the loving family he grew and led…

“May we carry on his legacy with the same brilliance, humility and heart as my Pop Pop, the great Dr. Nathan Schnall,” Beatrice Segal said.  (Beatrice and her grandmother, Dolly, were both Phi Beta Kappa in college, and Beatrice now carries her grandmother’s Phi Beta Kappa key.)

Together they created the Dolly Beechman Schnall Theater Endowment Fund at the Penn State University campus in Abington and the Nathan Schnall Scholarship Fund at Temple’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine.

Dolly Schnall died Oct. 29, 2020, at age 96 from long-term complications of a stroke.

In addition to his daughter, Ilene, and former wife, Nathan Schnall is survived by his wife’s daughters, Jane Beechman Segal and Claudia Beechman Cohen, grand children Beryl and Reid Cohen, Julian (Lauren), Brett ( Catie), Evan (Gabrielle) and Beatrice Dolly Segal and his great- grandchildren Lev, Sloane and Zoe Segal, who was born a week before Nate’s passing. Five brothers and a sister died earlier, as did Dr. Schnall's daughter, Rona. 

Contributions in Dr. Schnall's memory may be made to the Nathan Schnall MD Scholarship Fund at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, 3500 N. Broad St., Suite 1101, Phila., PA 19140. Len Lear can be reached at