January 2010

Retrospective: Mildred Cohn (1913–2009)

I developed a warm personal relationship with Mildred. Her rich experience in science, and her marriage to Henry, an illustrious physicist, made Mildred a source of fascinating and entertaining anecdotes about science and scientists. She also had an excellent memory and was a most interesting raconteur. I enjoyed listening to, and being inspired by, many stories during my stay at Penn. I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Mildred at her home in Philadelphia this past August. We spent an hour and a half chatting about many matters of mutual interest. She was in fine fettle, and it was a joy to see every bit of the raconteur I admired and loved so much. Her passing away leaves an irreplaceable void for me. 

B. D. Nageswara Rao
Professor of physics
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

***

My interactions with Mildred date back to the 1970s when I became a postdoc in the laboratory of Ernie Rose at Fox Chase Cancer Center. She was very cordial, intellectually stimulating and already a legend, making her a bit intimidating for me at the beginning of my career. Our interactions became much more personal when I found myself on the verge of divorcing and becoming a single parent. Mildred stepped in, had me to dinner at her home, and more or less took me under her wing. This friendship/mentorship was to endure for many decades, through Mildred’s sabbatical to Berkeley and the decades that followed.

Our interests in stable isotopes and their use in reaction mechanisms and enzymology were one thing that drew us together. A second was the never-easily-answered question of how to raise a family and be active in science. Mildred will always be my heroine in this regard. Lastly, there was the bond of two women who became friends and cared about each other. I have one particularly fond memory of introducing Mildred, who was visiting her family in California, to my mother who had moved to California. My mother insisted that we make cookies together, and I don’t think Mildred liked being ordered around by my mother in the kitchen at all. Both Mildred and my mom are now gone, and I can only smile broadly when I think about this moment.

I am deeply saddened by the loss of Mildred. She was truly a grand lady— in every way. 

Judith Klinman
Professor of molecular and cell biology
University of California, Berkeley

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