Obituary: Kornfeld, pioneer for women in science, 72

Rosalind H. Kornfeld, Ph.D., distinguished professor emerita of biochemistry in medicine, died Friday, Aug. 10, after a long illness. She was 72.

Kornfeld joined the School of Medicine faculty in 1965 as research instructor of medicine and was named professor of medicine and of biochemistry and molecular biophysics in 1981. She retired in 2001.

Her scientific research focused on the structure and biosynthesis of oligosaccharide chains on glycoproteins.

These sugar chains serve many important functions in the cell, including acting as recognition markers that allow proteins to get to their destinations. She was among the first to discover the structure of many oligosaccharides and to characterize how they were formed. Much of her early work was done in collaboration with her husband, Stuart A. Kornfeld, M.D., the David C. and Betty Farrell Professor of Medicine and co-director of the Division of Hematology.

“Rosalind Kornfeld’s impact on our department goes well beyond her scientific discoveries,” said Kenneth S. Polonsky, M.D., Adolphus Busch Professor and chairman of the Department of Medicine. “She was an outstanding role model for trainees and younger faculty, both men and women, on how to balance the demands of a rigorous career in research with personal and family needs.”

Philip Majerus, M.D., professor of medicine, of biochemistry and molecular biophysics and co-director of hematology, said for about 15 years, Kornfeld wrote the grant for the division’s training program, one of the largest clinical training grants in the country.

“I wrote it the last time it had to be renewed since she had retired,” Majerus said.

“It made me realize what a true citizen and team player she was to Washington University.”

Kornfeld was a founding member and first president of the Academic Women’s Network (AWN), which aims to assist and mentor female junior faculty and trainees. In 2000, the group awarded her with the first of its now annual Mentor Awards.

Linda Pike, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics and a longtime member of the Academic Women’s Network, said Kornfeld was “a central force” in AWN from the very beginning.

“There was no question in our minds that she would be our first president,” Pike said. “We were all a bit in awe of Rosalind since most of us who founded AWN were junior faculty. Ros was established in her career and showed us by example that it was possible for women to succeed in science, so it was natural for us to look to her for leadership.”

Kornfeld earned a bachelor’s degree in 1957 from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and a doctorate in biochemistry in 1961 from Washington University School of Medicine.

She is survived by her husband, Stuart, and three children: Katherine Kornfeld; Kerry Kornfeld, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of molecular biology and pharmacology; and Carolyn Lesorogol, Ph.D., assistant professor in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work; and six grandchildren.

Funeral services were private.