Katherine L. Esterly, M.D. - Spicer-Mullikin Funeral Homes & Crematory

Katherine L. Esterly, M.D.

Born October 11, 1925

Dr. Katherine L. Kitty Esterly, age 89, of Hockessin, DE, passed away peacefully on Tuesday, December 9, 2014.

Born in Norristown, PA on October 11, 1925, Kitty was the daughter of the late Harold D. Esterly and Inez M. Morgan Esterly. After completing her undergraduate degree at Ursinus College, she attended medical school at Temple University, graduating in 1951. Soon after, she relocated to Delaware to begin her internship and residency at the Delaware Hospital. Dr. Esterly became a practicing pediatrician in 1954 and would serve as an associate in pediatrics for the Children’s Bureau of Delaware from 1954 until 1968. During this time, she was a champion to countless adoptive and foster children. She was appointed as director of the organization in 1968 where her outstanding leadership skills and dedication to her profession were recognized by all.

In 1967, after the merger of Wilmington’s community hospitals, the Medical Center of Delaware was formed and a new department of pediatrics was created. Dr. Esterly quickly identified the need for the state of the art facility to include a skilled neonatologist, so she underwent additional training and in 1975 became the director of the neonatology division. Throughout the 1980’s, she worked tirelessly to expand the department which became a beacon of hope to thousands of families and their newborns.

Additionally, Dr. Esterly would serve as the chairman of the department of pediatrics at Christiana Care Health Services, as well as an attending neonatologist at AI duPont Hospital for Children and as a clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. She was also a consultant for St. Francis Hospital and for Delaware’s Child Development Watch program.

Deemed the Mother of Delaware Neonatology by the state’s leading newspapers, she was described by her colleagues as one who never took no for an answer. Dr. Esterly possessed a steel will in her approach to caring for her tiny patients and maintained the highest of standards for both herself and her fellow practitioners. Her warm personality, gentle hand and skilled communication style were an instant comfort to parents facing difficult times and it was her life’s mission to make sure that the best possible care was provided no matter what.

Dr. Esterly was a driving force behind the advancement of neonatal nurse practitioners and she helped create programs for schools in both Delaware and New Jersey. Her commitment to the medical community as a whole and her willingness to share her vast knowledge, led to her being appointed as the chair of the state’s Perinatal Board in 1995. A scholarship fund bearing her name and to which she personally contributed was created for students in the College of Health Sciences at the University of Delaware.
Dr. Esterly’s professional legacy will help ensure that the exceptional care she provided will be preserved for countless Delaware families and future generations of pediatric caregivers for many years to come.

She is survived by her niece, Suzan F. Freitas (Manny) of Carmel, CA; great niece, Synthia F. Walden (Chad) of El Dorado Hills, CA; and great nephews, Bradley and Jake.

A memorial service will be held at 7 pm on Tuesday evening, December 16, 2014, at the Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew, 719 Shipley Street (Shipley Street at Eighth Street), Wilmington, DE. Interment will be held privately in Christ Old Swedes Church, Swedesbury, PA.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to a children’s charity of the donor’s choice.


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15 Condolences for Katherine L. Esterly, M.D.

  • A true angel departed the mortal world this week! Dr. “E” was an inspiration to all who knew her, worked with her or were cared for by her. She touched the lives of many, many people in Delaware. I know that I am a better nurse and person for having known her! I picture her holding hands in a circle with all those loved ones (family, friends and patients) who passed before her, dancing to “Celebrate” by Kool and The Gang and saying “For crying in a bucket, I don’t know why all those folks down there are sad, we’ll see each other again some day”. I sure hope so!

  • A charming, intelligent and caring women…will be missed by many.
    Trish & Tom Reynolds
    Oxford, MD

  • I believe Dr. Esterly could very easily be classified a “saint”. I loved her for healing my toddler son when he fell into our TV controls and had to be rushed to the hospital. She called in Dr. Whitney who stitched up my son’s face without leaving a scar. She also saved his life when he was even younger. She really should be right next to God.

    Barbara Williams

  • This world has lost a great doctor and person. Dr. Esterly was a champion for the child, she took great care of my siblings and self from our births until we moved out of the Wilmington area. Over the years I kept track of her outstanding contributions to the care of infants and am very proud to say she was my pediatrician. Dr. Esterly took the time to interact with her young patients and always made you feel loved and cared about. I will miss this exceptional doctor and I know she will be cheering on the Philadelphia Phillies from heaven. May you live in eternal peace my doctor, my friend, you will be missed.

  • I met Dr. Katherine Esterly when I was a student at the Nursing School of Wilmington in 1968. I was to meet her again when I began working in the Neonatal ICU at the Delaware Division in 1975. She was a mentor to me and all the nurses who came to work there. Every time I place a lap blanket across my legs before I pick up an infant, I recall that this was the most basic task she taught me. She worked endlessly for her little patients who were sick will all types of diseases & disorders, but I mostly remember her over the many years in IICU caring for the premature infants at a time when at first it was difficult to save a baby born only eight weeks early. She would show up in the unit at all times of the night or day. She always smiled and she had eyes that twinkled. Sometimes when we got snowed in at the hospital, she would bring in food for the nurses to help them make it through double-shifts ..She was a teacher to many of us. I remember one baby who could not become discharged because he did not have a crib or the necessary supplies required; Dr Esterly personally bought these items for that little child so that he could go home to be with his family. She was an angel in disguise whisking through the unit caring for the wee babies who were born way too soon. Now she has joined her mentor, Dr.Margaret Handy, and I am sure they are catching up on the latest in pediatrics and neonatology. The world has lost a great physician and child advocate. Heaven has gained our highly esteemed neonatologist, the first in our state. Thank you Dr. Esterly for helping me to become the pediatric nurse that I still am. I will never forget your personal influence on my nursing career. You will be missed by all who knew you. Thank you for all the little children you blessed with your presence in their lives. What a very special person you were. Sleep in Heavenly peace.

  • I met Kitty when I started attending SsAM/ Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew . She was adorably funny. I always felt like no matter what it was you may have been struggling with , she always made it be “OK”. Very caring and encouraging whether it be in a bible study or showing you how to make a Christmas wreath . I’m going to miss her.

  • Dr. Esterly was my brother’s doctor over 50 years ago. It is an honor to have known her. Rest in peace dear Dr.Esterly you will be truly missed.

  • Dr. Esterly was a beautiful gentle lady, a great teacher, and mentor for all our nurses. We worked together for over 40 years, and I have wonderful memories of her friendship and expert medical care for our babies & children. One of my cherished memories is the move, January, 1985, of almost 100 babies & children from Wilmington to the new Christiana Hospital.

    Also, thirty six years ago, my son, Dan born premature…..and Dr Esterly saved his life. Thank you.

    We will love you forever Dr. Esterly.

    Moonyeen “Kloppy” Klopfenstein, RN

  • My sympathies to the family of Dr. Katherine Esterly. She was my pediatrician for many years and I remember her making house calls to our home. She will be sadly missed by many. What an amazing lady she was!

  • I am so sorry for your loss. Dr. Esterly was my pediatrician. I will always remember her with great fondness. I actually remember her coming to our house to make house calls when we were sick. She truly was a great doctor and will be greatly missed.

  • Our sympathies to the family of Dr.Katherine Esterly. I knew Katherine even before I worked with her at the old General Division. As a nurse I knew there was a problem with our second daughter at birth. The year was 1981. We drove from Frederick, MD to DE just to give birth at a hospital with a NICU. This was my old hospital since 1975. I knew there was a serious issue when Dr. Esterly heard the grunting sound the babies have just before respiratory failure.
    This then lead me to many years is OB Recovery. She frequently pulled me to her NICU since I had ICU experience. Thank you, Katherine, for giving your life to serve and save others. I know you are with God. Please continue to pray for the little ones. We will all miss you! Love, The Emmett Family

  • Dr. Esterly was a true pioneer who had compassion for all people. I enjoyed working with her on several Boards. She will be sorely missed by the State of De and all those whose lives she touched over the years. Rest in peace sweet lady. Vernita

  • Dr. Kitty is the reason I am alive! She diagnosed me with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma in 1977, when i was 7 years old and cured me of it by 1979. I can remember waking up in the ICU at the Delaware division and seeing her rocking in the chair next to my bed, It is such a comforting memory for me. She will always live in heart as I know she will in so many others.

  • I always said next to God I wanted Dr. Esterly by my sick child’s bed. Seeing the heading of the newspaper article about her death, I realized I wasn’t the only worried mother who felt that way. What an exceptional person. Such a caring compassionate person. Rest in peace Dr. Esterly.

  • I always think of Aunt Kitty. She was even there when Diane was sick. Dad could always call her.