While preparing for my department's Hsiung-Kimball award seminar, I learned a lot about the award’s two namesake scientists. Inspired by their stories, I share them here.
Dr. Gueh-Djen (Edith) Hsiung (1918-2006) and Dr. Margaret Everett Kimball (1924-2011) attended Michigan State University together in the late 1940s. The Hsiung-Kimball award was endowed by Hsiung, who named the it for Kimball and her family. The two women were friends and roommates during their time at State, ~1947-1951, and their careers highlight biology’s 20th century triumph over infectious disease.
I found Dr. Hsiung's obituary from Yale, where she spent most of her career on the faculty as a virologist and professor of laboratory medicine. As far as obituaries go, it’s the most lively and inspiring one I’ve read. Here's an excerpt with one of my favorite stories about Dr. Hsiung, a vaccine, and a goat:
“Gueh-Djen (Edith) Hsiung, an internationally recognized virologist and professor emeritus of laboratory medicine, died of cancer on Aug. 20 at Connecticut Hospice in Branford. She was 87.
I had only 10 minutes for my awards seminar, but I took a minute to share the great goat story and highlight Dr. Hsiung's career. After all, she graduated with Ph.D. in microbiology, from MSU (the degree I'm seeking) in 1951, which was the year Ester Lederberg discovered virus phage Lambda (my Ph.D. study organism) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (where I earned my undergrad degree), making the award especially meaningful to me. And, the audience loved the goat.
The other half of the award’s namesake is Dr. Kimball, who graduated from MSU in 1949 with a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine. She went on to test cattle for tuberculosis across the state of Michigan, practice veterinary medicine, and work as a meat processing plant inspector. She also made it to all 50 states! The MMG website says that “Dr. Kimball's family hosted Dr. Hsiung during her graduate career, and the two became close friends,” and Dr. Kimball’s obituary specifically mentions a trip to China with Dr. Hsiung, so it seems the friendship was a long and meaningful one.
I’d love more details about Hsiung and Kimball’s friendship, perhaps because as I’m mid-grad school myself and have a hunch that grad school friendships are much the same now as they were 70 years ago. I would guess that then, as now, the academic environment forges lifelong friendships. Did these women talk about their research and emerging diseases over drinks? Did they review one another’s manuscripts? Did they go on autumn walks through the Baker woodlot? Did they celebrate with dinners out when they had a success?
Maybe friends or family of Dr. Hsiung and Dr. Kimball will have stories or pictures to share. As I write my thank-you letter simply to “whom it may concern,” I would guess that some of those people include Dr. Hsiung’s nieces and nephews and their children, as well as Dr. Kimball’s children and their children. To all of you: your aunt and mother were two cool women I look up to and gain inspiration of as I walk across Michigan State’s campus today. Thank you for the award named in their honor!
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