Dr. Ernest Goodman delivered more than 8,000 babies over three decades as an obstetrician in St. Paul, a career that was born out of a serendipitous moment while he was working as a cook in the Navy during World War II.

A piece of heavy equipment had fallen on a shipmate’s toe and gangrene had set in. The ship was without a surgeon, so Goodman jumped in and, with only the aid of a manual, successfully amputated the man’s toe. That’s when he decided to forgo a career in engineering and become a doctor, said his daughter and former St. Paul City Council member, Paula Goodman Maccabee.

Goodman founded Parkview Obstetrics and Gynecology medical practice in 1959 and later served as chief of staff at United Hospital. He died there April 1 after suffering a heart attack. He was 86.

“He liked people. He liked being their doctor and being a meaningful part of people’s lives, and they loved him,” said Dan Foley, United’s retired medical director. “He was proud to have built a strong practice that was meaningful to St. Paul.”

Born in St. Paul, Goodman was 16 when he enrolled at the University of Minnesota to study engineering, becoming the first in his family to attend college. He used the GI bill to go to medical school at the University of Bologna, Italy, where he met Malka, his wife of 63 years. She became a well-known psychiatrist and the two became a team serving women.

At a time when many of his contemporaries subscribed to the theory that the doctor knew best, Goodman gained the respect of nurses by relying on their expertise. He also was respected by his patients, whom he provided with information to make their own health care decisions, said his daughter Dr. Sheila Goodman Rosenthal.

He was an advocate for his patients and made headlines when he appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes” to speak out about the harmful effects of the Dalkon Shield, a contraceptive device that rendered many women sterile. The Goodmans also provided free pregnancy counseling and shelter for unwed mothers who were shunned by their families.

Following his retirement in the early 1990s, Goodman served as a volunteer counselor, OB/GYN care provider and board member at La Clinica, a free clinic for Hispanics, friends and family members said.

“My dad was a person who did what was right and would not do what was conventional or easy,” Maccabee said. “My dad never said, ‘Fight for the vulnerable,’ but that is how he lived.”

His compassion was not forgotten. When Maccabee ran for City Council in 1989, she said that when she knocked on doors the conversation inevitably turned to her father.

“They said your dad delivered my children, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” she said. “My dad was a doctor who touched lives.”

Until his enlistment in the service, Goodman had never heard classical music. That exposure sparked his interest in the arts, his daughter said. He became a lifelong arts benefactor who served on the boards of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra when it was in its infancy and the St. Paul Jewish Community Center.

“He was very involved in helping the center advance programs in the arts and music,” said Burt Garr, former executive director of the St. Paul Jewish Community Center. “It was a passion of his. I appreciated having somebody with his leadership capabilities on the board.”

Goodman was devoted to his family and enjoyed photography and cooking. “He made Jewish twisted bread better than we could get anywhere else,” Goodman Rosenthal said.

Services have been held.