Obituary: Ruth Succop / Pioneering social worker, the first at Children's Hospital

Sept. 20, 1919 - May 11, 2014

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At a time when few women graduated from college and even fewer had careers, Ruth Succop earned a master's degree in social work and became the first social worker hired by Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

In her more than three decades at the hospital, Ms. Succop was essential in creating a modern clinical social work department, leaving a legacy of improved quality of life for child patients and their families.

Ms. Succop died Sunday at her home in Longwood at Oakmont, a retirement community in Plum. She was 94.

Ms. Succop, who was raised in Squirrel Hill, attended Winchester Thurston School and graduated in 1941 from the Pennsylvania College for Women, now Chatham University. She earned a master's degree in social work from Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University.

After a couple of years employed as a social worker in New York City, Children's Hospital recruited Ms. Succop back to Pittsburgh in 1952.

Cynthia Liefeld, her cousin, said that in those days, ill children often would spend hours lying unattended in a hospital bed, and families went without support services and were left to deal with schools that were unprepared to handle their children's needs.

Ms. Succop worked to change that, coordinating care among doctors, families and other service providers.

"She saw a gap between what doctors were able to do and what families needed when there was an ill child in the family," Ms. Liefeld said. "She wanted to have a continuity of care where the physicians were involved with medical care but where social services were there for other needs."

Karen Christman, a social worker who worked with Ms. Succop at Children's Hospital, said Ms. Succop went beyond the traditional areas of social work at the time, focusing on psychiatric services, family dynamics and therapy.

She also was a pioneer in recognizing and addressing child abuse, Ms. Christman said, and stood by children who sometimes had no one else to support them.

"She understood families and family dynamics," Ms. Christman said. "Once she understood what children needed emotionally, she was very clear about her advocacy for children."

Ms. Succop also was an advocate for social workers. In 1990, she founded the Ruth A. Succop Education Charitable Trust. Social workers must complete 30 credits of continuing education every two years, and the trust pays for annual conferences that meet those requirements, giving social workers in the region a low-cost way to stay licensed.

After she retired, Ms. Succop served as a board member with Self Help Network and Woodwell Presbyterian Home.

At age 80, the longtime resident of Point Breeze followed several of her friends to Longwood, where she enjoyed playing bridge and attending the symphony, opera and public theater with her friends.

Janet Fogle, who worked with Ms. Succop at Children's Hospital, said that in her final years, Ms. Succop was proud of how the clinical social work program at the hospital had evolved.

"She was just so happy to have worked with us," Ms. Fogle said. "And she said to me that she knew her time was coming and she was ready because she had led a very full and happy life."

Ms. Succop, who never married and had no siblings, leaves no surviving relatives.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. today at the chapel at Longwood.

Brett Sholtis: or 412-263-1581.

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