Gertrude Belle Elion. 23 January 1918 — 21 February 1999

Mary Ellen Avery


In the spring of 1933 Gertrude Elion graduated from high school and that summer she had to select a major subject before she could begin her freshman year at Hunter College. This posed a quandary for the future Nobel Prize recipient, as well as holder of 45 patents, 23 honorary degrees, and a long list of other honours: she had liked all her school subjects, making it difficult to select just one. ‘Iloved to learn everything, everything in sight and I was never satisfied that I knew everything there was to know in each of my courses.'Fatefully, that summer her grandfather, whom she loved dearly, died of cancer. ‘I watched him go over a period of months in a very painfulway, and it suddenly occurred to me that what I really needed to do was to become a scientist, and particularly a chemist, so that I would goout there and make a cure for cancer.' (All quotations in this memoir are from the author's taped 1997 interview with G. B. Elion.)