Sheila Ronkin, a maternal fetal medicine specialist turned pharmaceutical developer, died Sept. 25 of pancreatic cancer. She was 61.
Ronkin reinvented herself every 10 years, said her husband, Andrew Gerson. For one of the reinventions, she went back to school, earning a master’s degree in business administration and strategic planning at Haub School of Business of St. Joseph’s University.
She used that degree to land a job at Wyeth, where she helped create, among other medicines, Premarin, which treats symptoms of menopause. She became Pfizer’s assistant vice president of clinical development when the company bought Wyeth in 2009. She was promoted to vice president of clinical sciences in 2014.
She moved on to BioMarin in 2016 and was a clinical research consultant before leaving in March due to her health.
“Pharmaceutical companies actually have a mission to create medicines that help people, and Sheila embraced that,” Gerson said. “She actually cared that the medicine did something good for people.”
Gerson and Ronkin met in 1983. Then a resident of obstetrics and gynecology at Temple University, Gerson was approached by the program director with five cards bearing pictures of internship candidates. “Pick one,” Gerson was told.
“I looked down and Sheila’s smile captivated me, which is the truth,” Gerson said. “I said, ‘Pick her.’ I thought he was joking.
“She came to the program, and nine months later, we were engaged. Six months after that, we were married.”
Ronkin and Gerson had a daughter, Lyssa Gerson Guy, and a son, Alexander Gerson, and moved to Merion. They moved back to Philadelphia in 2011, in part to experience the city’s multiculturalism.
She enjoyed novels, especially about the British monarchy. She loved attending independent film screenings, and the last movie she saw with Gerson was RBG, the documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her husband found that fitting.
“Sheila related to that movie a lot,” he said. “Here was this woman who was very independent, who was in law in school when there weren’t any women in law school. … Sheila went to medical school at a time when there 180 kids in a class, and only 10 of them were women. She saw herself as someone who was maybe a little ahead of the time,” Gerson said.
Ronkin was quick to pick up new hobbies and, late in life, she developed passions for knitting and weaving. She was interested in politics, and always made sure to be in attendance when former President Barack Obama came to Philadelphia for speaking engagements.
In addition to Gerson and her two children, Ronkin is survived by her father, Seymour Ronkin, and three brothers.
Funeral services were held Sept. 26 at Goldsteins’ Rosenberg’s Raphael-Sacks. Memorial contributions can be made to Philabundance (philabundance.org) or the Mitzvah Food Pantry