I first met Kathy in August 2001 when, newly arrived in Montreal with a totally useless PhD in molecular genetics, I approached her, hat in hand, looking for a postdoctoral position in Biomedical Ethics. Actually, my hat wasn’t in hand- it was on my head- I had a week earlier accidentally carved a canyon in my scalp when I left the spacer off my electric razor. Apparently, Kathy wasn’t put off by my impertinent attire, and she hired me. That was the beginning of a beautiful mentorship and, years later, as the director of the Biomedical Ethics Unit, Kathy hired me as an Assistant Prof.
More than any one person I can think of, I owe Kathy my career. Kathy was a great teacher. She kindled in me- and others around her- a passion for research ethics, and a recognition of the way that science, method, law, and ethics constitute not separately contended arenas, but an integrated whole. After the life of her mentor- Benjy Freedman- was tragically cut short, Kathy picked up Benjy’s torch and led the Clinical Trial Research Group here at McGill. Together with her CTRG colleagues, Kathy published a series of landmark papers on such issues as the use of placebo comparators, risk and pediatric research, the (mis)conduct of duplicative trials, the testing of gene therapies- papers that belong in any respectable research ethics syllabus. I use them myself. Kathy led the CTRG- and for that matter, the BMEU- with fierce conviction and an unshakable fidelity to the weakest and most debilitated. Yet she also fostered an intellectually cosmopolitan environment, where dissenting voices were welcomed. And then softly disabused of their dissent
Kathy was also a great mentor. She supervised 24 Master’s and doctoral students- many of whom went on to successful careers as bioethicists around the world- and many of whom show great promise as they continue their studies. Kathy also supervised 6 postdocs- 5 landed good academic jobs. Not bad. But what was most inspiring about Kathy was not her ability to energize talent. To some degree, talent runs on its own batteries. Instead, it was in the way Kathy was able to get pretty good, honest work out of less talented- but earnest- students. Kathy was elite, but not an elitist.
A mutual colleague has described Kathy as self-effacing. She took pleasure in her achievements, but still greater pleasure in the achievements of her collaborators and students. Over the last few weeks, I have fielded countless queries from colleagues far and wide- highly influential bioethicists who worked with her like Carl Elliot and Leigh Turner in Minnesota, or Michael McDonald in Vancouver. And look around you in this chapel and you will see some more leading lights of bioethics and clinical trials- Charles Weijer, Bartha Knoppers, Trudo Lemmens, Stan Shapiro to name a few. Their presence and deep affection testify to Kathy’s personal and professional impact, as does the recognition accorded by the Canadian Bioethics Society when Kathy received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
Kathy was a fundamentally decent human being. She confronted an unusual amount of personal adversity- the death of her son, her early experience with cancer and its later recurrence, the untimely death of her mentor- with courage, dignity, and a resilience that inspired all around her. Her work speaks so convincingly in part because it is informed by these personal experiences.
After her retirement and when she was able to muster the strength- and navigate the ice on Peel Street- Kathy would show up at my research group meetings and participate in discussions. I speak for my group- and also my colleagues in research ethics- when I say our universe will be smaller and a little less inviting without the presence of this gentle, inquisitive, selfless, and righteous woman.
-Jonathan Kimmelman, April 17, 2014