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Joan H. Marks, Pioneer in Genetic Counseling, Dies at 91


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Joan H. (Rosen) Marks, a pioneer in genetic counseling, died on September 14, 2020. She was 91. Ms. Marks received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, in 2019, in recognition of her contributions and leadership to the College and to society, the College noted in a recent statement. Ms. Marks served at Sarah Lawrence for more than 26 years and is the namesake for the program she built—the Joan H. Marks Graduate Program in Human Genetics.

“Joan’s visionary leadership has left an indelible impression on Sarah Lawrence College and on the world,” said Sarah Lawrence College President Cristle Collins Judd. “She pioneered and sustained the creation of an entirely new field of study and endeavor in genetic counseling, benefiting millions of people across the globe, and contributing immeasurably to societal and individual understanding of the human genome.”

Blazing a New Trail

Joan was born on February 4, 1929, in Portland, Maine. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College in 1951 and went on to earn a Master’s degree in social work from Simmons College in Boston. She then embarked on a career as a psychiatric social worker at several major New York hospitals.

In 1972, Ms. Marks took the helm of what, at the time, was a 3-year-old genetic counseling graduate program at Sarah Lawrence—the first in the nation. During her decades-long tenure, she would grow the program to the largest in the nation and blaze the trail for an entirely new field in health care, blending the tenets of psychology, advocacy, biology, and medicine.

In 2003, Ms. Marks received the Award of Excellence from the American Society for Human Genetics—the first woman and first nonmedical doctor to earn this accolade. In 2012, she received the Natalie Weissberger Paul Lifetime Achievement Award, the most distinguished honor given by the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

“Joan’s imprint on the genetic counseling profession is far-reaching and unsurpassed,” said Claire Davis, Director of the Joan H. Marks Graduate Program in Human Genetics. “…She advocated for a world in which genetic counselors would be equally adept at providing patients with compassionate, humanistic care and deciphering complex science. She then brought this vision to life through her considerable savviness and aplomb.”

Joan’s husband of 67 years, Paul Marks, MD, who led the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, died in May 2020. She is survived by two sons, Andrew and Matthew; a daughter, Elizabeth; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

 


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