University News

Former dean dies at 88

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Elizabeth LeDuc, former dean of biological sciences and landmark member of Brown’s Division of Biology and Medicine, died Jan. 31 at 88 years of age. At a time when few women were included in academic life, LeDuc left a legacy of effective leadership and groundbreaking research in biology. 

According to the University Archives, “Dukie,” as her colleagues called her, earned full professorship in the BioMed division at Brown in 1964 — the third woman to reach that rank in Brown’s history and the first to do so in biology, the Providence Journal reported. 
LeDuc served as the division’s dean from 1973 to 1977, another impressive achievement for a woman at the time.

“She was a woman in an age when there were not many woman professors,” said Professor of Biology Peter Heywood, who worked with LeDuc at the time, “and certainly not many woman full professors who then became deans.”

Marjorie Thompson ’74 PhD’79 P’02 P’07 P’09 P’12, associate dean of biological sciences, studied under LeDuc as an undergrad at Brown and later took over teaching LeDuc’s course on histology.

“The thing that was wonderful about Dukie is that it wasn’t about gender,” Thompson said.

“We are making that observation now in retrospect,” she added, “because she was in a sense free of all the decrements of worrying about whether this was a woman achievement or a man achievement.”

According to a short biography Heywood penned about LeDuc, she grew up in Vermont, earning her bachelor’s of science from the University of Vermont in 1943. She then went on to earn a master’s degree from Wellesley College.

After obtaining her PhD at Brown, LeDuc stayed on in Providence for a postdoctoral fellowship and — after teaching anatomy at Harvard Medical School — returned to Brown for the remainder of her academic career. As a graduate student, she co-authored several articles with her mentor, J. Walter Wilson, Heywood said.

According to Heywood, LeDuc taught histology, focused her research on cellular biology, specializing in liver cells and pioneered the field of cytochemistry.

“She helped push biology forward at a time when other departments weren’t growing,” Heywood said. 

Outside of Brown, LeDuc was recognized for her work as a researcher and prominent leader in the field of biology. She was the only woman appointed to then-President Gerald Ford’s nine-member Committee on Science and Technology, according to Heywood’s biography.

During the summer months, she collaborated with researchers from the Institut de Reserches Scientifiques sur le Cancer in France, according to the biography.

“She was a member of 12 professional societies, served on several editorial boards and was a member of the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council of the National Institutes of Health,” the Journal reported.

But beyond her impressive career, her colleagues remember her most for her approachable and affectionate personality.

“She was a very good person to work with. She was a very professional sort of person, but she was also a warm person, just ideal to work with,” Heywood said.

Thompson said “she was simply someone who was a leader, who was excellent and who engendered the admiration, love and respect of everyone.” 

LeDuc was a “lover of travel, of food, of the arts,” Thompson said.

Heywood shared LeDuc’s love for French food. 

“She loved to eat,” Heywood said, “and for someone who in the laboratory worked with liver, she liked to eat liver, too.”

He added, “I think she enjoyed the good life and good food and good company.”