Dorothy Skinner

Dorothy Skinner, a resident of Falmouth since 1999, died on February 12 from complications of Parkinson’s disease.

Dorothy was born in Newton, Massachusetts, and graduated from Watertown High School, where she was Best Girl Athlete. At Tufts University she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in her junior year and was on the women’s basketball team and a member of the Marlins, an aquatic ballet group. She earned her B.A. in 1952. For two years she was Assistant Dean of Admissions at Tufts. The Dean being unwell, at age 23 Dorothy was given the chief responsibility for admitting two classes to the School of Arts and Sciences.

The following year she was admitted to the Biology Department at Harvard. Her Ph.D. work there introduced her to the biology of Crustacea, particularly crabs, which became the focus area for her research career. At the time when she entered the field of biology, the importance and the functions of DNA were just being recognized and analyzed by molecular biologists, and she embarked on postdoctoral training in these areas at Harvard, Yale, and Brandeis. Her first independent position was in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at N.Y.U. Medical School, where she met her husband John Cook, a mammalian physiologist. After their marriage they went to the Biology Division of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee where they worked in their respective fields until retirement more than 30 years later.

At Oak Ridge, she introduced molecular approaches to the investigation of numerous crustacean species, identifying unusual properties of the DNA of these animals as well as demonstrating special characteristics of the DNA that make it susceptible to mutation. She developed new insights into regeneration of new limbs when the old ones were damaged or lost, and she devised new methods for triggering crustacean growth and studying their hormones. Of her graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, twenty-four in all, many now hold significant positions in academia or in research institutions.

Her other professional activities included editorships on editorial boards of four scientific journals and membership on review panels for the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. She also was an officer in several scientific societies. Several summers she taught at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Throughout her life she devoted a significant effort to promoting the equal treatment of women in science and was elected to the governing council of the Association for Women in Science.

In 1993 she received a Scholar-Athlete Award from Tufts and in 1994 she was honored with the Distinguished Service Award from the Tufts Alumni Association. That same year she was also honored by the Crustacean Society with an Award for Excellence in Research, the citation being for a lifetime of investigative achievements and for mentoring new trainees in the field.

She and her husband developed an interest in 20th century art and filled their home with a substantial collection of painting, prints, and sculpture.

She is survived by her husband, a sister Marjorie Fralick of Belmont, MA, and a second sister Joyce S. Hirtle of Lexington, MA.

There will be a memorial service for Dorothy Skinner on May 20 at 5:00 p.m. in the Goddard Chapel at Tufts University, Medford, MA. Remarks will be made by Dorothy’s older sister, Marjorie Fralick, long-time friend Marjorie Harvey, and her husband, John Cook. All are welcome.

Obituary reprinted with permission from The Falmouth Enterprise.