Gerald S. Segal, who overcame paralysis and became a major benefactor to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, died June 28 at his Blue Bell home. He was 79.
“His grandchildren said he was the most tenacious, heroic and inspiring person they know,” daughter Traci Ernst said, referring to ongoing health battles her father faced.
During her eulogy, she paid tribute to her father by pausing to gaze up at the sun. She said he often did likewise, as if the sun was recharging him.
Segal, who went by Jerry, was paralyzed in 1988 during surgery in San Francisco to alleviate chronic back pain, then returned to Philadelphia. After further surgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, he transferred to Magee for rehabilitation.
His goal in rehab was to be able to play golf again — something he was able to do unassisted in 1990 at the first Jerry Segal Classic at White Manor Country Club, which raised $56,000 for the hospital.
The annual event continues to this day, raising about $20 million for Magee patients. That money, according to Magee Rehabilitation’s website, has gone to buy wheelchair accessible buses for transporting patients, a guest housing fund, a center for community skills, a meal program and numerous pieces of equipment, among other things.
The pandemic has prompted the cancellation of this year’s event, but Ernst said it will live on in future years.
“Over the years, Jerry Segal and Magee have almost become synonymous, what with the strong regional awareness of the Classic, combined with Segal’s presence as a hospital volunteer and enthusiastic coach for patients,” according to a hospital history compiled in 2008. “Segal visits Magee regularly, often encouraging individual patients with his unique and contagious brand of irreverence, encouragement and camaraderie.”
“He was a coach, a mentor, a cheerleader to hundreds of patients around here,” said Ron Siggs, Magee’s senior vice president of development. “He was a determined guy, a driven guy that was going to make good things happen.”
Ernst said her father was always there to support fellow patients at Magee — he received treatments throughout his life.
“He wanted to let everyone believe … that their outlooks weren’t as dire as medical professionals sometimes lead you to believe,” she said.
Siggs noted that patients would listen to Magee and go the extra mile — another repetition, another push — because of his own credibility as a successful patient.
Segal was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as a member of the President’s National Council on Disabilities.
In addition, he served on the boards of Independence Blue Cross, Abramson Center, Historic Philadelphia, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, The Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities, and The Governor’s Cabinet & Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities, among others.
A lawyer by trade, Wynnefield native Segal — he graduated from Overbrook High School, Drexel University and Temple University School of Law — was a founding partner in 1966 of Segal, Berk, Gaines & Liss, which specializes in civil litigation.
Despite a busy law practice, Ernst remembered her father — wearing a three-piece suit on the sidelines — making time for her field hockey games. That practice continued with his grandchildren.
“He was on the sidelines for every game they played,” she said.
Segal is survived by his wife, Carolyn; daughters Traci Ernst and Marci Sachs; sisters Selma Glanzberg-Krestal and Rhoda Hasson; and five grandchildren.