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University News

Associate Dean of Biological Sciences Marjorie Thompson dies

'Beloved' dean who led undergrad biology program also known for musical passions

University News Editor
Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Updated Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 10:50 p.m.

Marjorie Thompson ’74 PhD’79 P’02 P’07 P’09 P’12 P’14 P’16, associate dean of biological sciences, died Monday afternoon while on leave from the University this semester, said Katherine Smith, who was appointed interim associate dean of biological sciences Sept. 1.

“It’s going to be an extreme loss — a personal one for many students,” Smith told The Herald. “She was beloved by all.”

Thompson died at Home and Hospice Care of Rhode Island “surrounded by family and close friends,” wrote Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences Jack Elias and Associate Dean of Biology Edward Hawrot in an email to the Division of Biology and Medicine Tuesday afternoon.

“Throughout her time here she remained committed to advancing the University in numerous and enduring ways,” President Christina Paxson wrote in a community-wide email Tuesday night.

In her post as associate dean, which she held since 1983, Thompson led the Biology Undergraduate Affairs Office, which oversees the undergraduate biology curriculum and advising system.

Thompson completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at Brown, receiving a bachelor of science in biochemistry in 1974 and a Ph.D. in biology in 1979, according to the Biology Undergraduate Affairs Office website.

She married husband Ian Thompson PhD’79 and had seven children, six of whom attended or currently attend the University.

Though Thompson was set to teach BIOL 3643: “Histology” this semester, her leave of absence prevented her from instructing the course, Smith said.

Last spring, Thompson led two sections of BIOL 0320: “Vertebrate Embryology,” according to Banner. Over her time at the University, she taught histology to medical students and embryology, biological illustration and scientific writing to undergraduates, Elias and Hawrot wrote.

In past summers, she offered an introductory biology course to high school participants in the Summer@Brown program, according to the Biology Undergraduate Affairs Office website.

She also participated in several committees tasked with evaluating the biology program, chairing the Biology Curriculum Committee and serving as a member of the Program in Biology Advisory Committee, according to the Biology Undergraduate Affairs Office website.

Thompson advised hundreds of students every academic year, including those pursuing independent research, Elias and Hawrot wrote in their email.

In her email, Paxson noted that Thompson mentored students with “boundless support and friendship.”

“My goal is to run this office just as she would, and to keep advising students just as she would,” Smith told The Herald.

Beyond the biology department, Thompson bolstered a number of groups focused on academic affairs. She was chair of the Academic Awards Committee and a member of the Senior Dean’s Council, the BioMedical Faculty Council and the College Curriculum Committee, according to the Biology Undergraduate Affairs Office website.

Additionally, Thompson helped found the Science Center and elect undergraduates to the Brown chapter of Sigma Xi, an international honor society for science and engineering.

As a dean, Thompson won several awards including the Barrett Hazeltine Senior Class Citation and the BioMed Dean’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and Advising, Elias and Hawrot wrote.

“A respected leader and valued colleague, she was always willing to share her advice and expertise,” Paxson wrote.

Outside of her University position, Thompson enjoyed pursuing her artistic passions. An avid songwriter, singer and acoustic guitarist, she released six albums and performed on radio and television programs including “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” according to her website.

Last year, Thompson went on tour, performing her music in North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio and Massachusetts.

She also started Cellular Fun, a business aiming to produce “biologically correct jewelry,” according to its website.

A funeral service will be held Thursday at 1 p.m. at Temple Emanu-El in Providence, Elias and Hawrot wrote. Students, faculty members and staff members are welcome to leave written condolences for Thompson’s family at the Office of Biology Undergraduate Education in Arnold Lab, they wrote.

For support, Brown community members can contact the offices of Counseling and Psychological Services, which can be reached at 401-863-3476, and Chaplains and Religious Life, which can be reached at 401-863-2344. The CAPS line is open on evenings and weekends, as is the University’s administrator-on-call line, 401-863-3322.

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  1. A Great Loss says:

    Truly one of the greatest people Brown has ever had. Her memory lives on through the generations of students she has taught, mentored, and cared for- may she rest in peace.

  2. Dean T played an extraordinary number of roles. A true superhero.

  3. Dean T. was the best. She made Brown the magical place it was for me… I will miss her so much. Rest in peace.

  4. Robert Mathiesen says:

    One of the two or three very best deans ever, at least during my half-century at Brown.

  5. A person who truly pushed students to explore their passions and who successfully ran one of the largest, most popular departments at the school. A big, sad loss for the Brown community for sure.

    On a lighter note: ’74 PhD’79 P’02 P’07 P’09 P’12 P’14 P’16 has to be the longest degree listing ever printed in the herald, right?

    • healthcareattorney says:

      I think the P 02, etc is an indication that she was the parent of 6 Brown University students the last of whom will graduate in 2016.

  6. There are few people at my alma mater, let alone in this world, to whom I owe such a debt of gratitude. Dean T was one of the few people at Brown to actually tell me the truth. More importantly, she was one of my biggest advocates at every step of my academic career.

    My deepest sympathies to the Thompson family. Dean T will be sorely missed.

  7. healthcareattorney says:

    She is one of the most amazing friends I have ever had in my life. Besides her academic accomplishments, she was a gifted musician and songwriter. She touched so many lives. I will miss her greatly.

  8. BrownBio2012 says:

    One of the best educators and kindest people I ever met at Brown. Thanks for all of your guidance and advice. Rest in peace.

  9. Condolences to Marjorie’s family, and the Brown community. A phenomenally gifted musician and teacher. Very sad day.

  10. I was stunned and saddened to hear of Marjorie’s passing. I knew her from her teaching guitar with Jorma Kaukonen at Fur Peace Ranch and I still use her instructional DVDs to continue learning today. She was quite kind and generous. RIP.

  11. Adam Z Kawalek says:

    By far the best Dean I ever had. I literally think I got into med school because of her! A true loss to the Brown community

  12. Such an incredible professor and mentor. Embryology was the best class I have taken at Brown.

  13. What a shame. Condolences to her family, truly a Brunonian family.

    • I met Marjorie recently at workshop for communicating science. For days I talked to my wife and friends about this amazingly interesting person whom I met. Marjorie was a person with a great capacity for experience, humor and empathy. In a moment she became one of my favorite people on Earth.

  14. Rajnish Saini '94, MD'98 says:

    So sad to hear this news. Dr. Thompson was a source of inspiration for me as a gawky college student in the 90’s. She was unflailingly positive and nurturing. She will be missed.

  15. Jay Jaffe '92 says:

    Crushed to hear the news of Dean T.’s passing. She was my favorite professor at Brown – I loved her Embroyology class – and only recently I had discovered her music career. Truly a one-of-a-kind person who will be missed.

  16. She is the reason I am a pathologist today…. rest in peace Mom, Scientist,Dean, Artist and the titles continue. I wish you wrote a book on how you were able to balance all this……..and stayed Married!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you for your mentorship Dean T

  17. I have been sobbing for hours over the loss of my mentor who pushed me to do research as an undergrad in the ’80’s, Marjorie’s prodding eventually led to me helping others through health education research today.What a remarkable human being.

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