SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
22 January 2015
Volume 16 Issue 1
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In Memoriam: Theo Colborn

Bill Goodfellow and Tim Canfield, SETAC Globe Editors-in-Chief

On 14 December 2014, Theodora “Theo” Emily Decker Colborn passed away at the age of 87 at her home in Paonia, Colorado, surrounded by her family. She was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, on 28 March 1927.

Theo's work in the scientific field started relatively late in her life. She spent many years as a pharmacist and sheep rancher in Colorado while she raised her four children. It was not until she was at the age of 51 that she began her work on her Master of Science degree focusing on freshwater ecology and later earned her Ph.D. in zoology. Throughout her career, Theo often spoke passionately of the need for a global program focused on “inner space research” (or the developmental process in the body), with a commitment and funding on par with our outer space investigations.

Theo’s primary scientific focus and seminal contribution was in fostering scientific discussion and debate as well as public awareness of endocrine disruptors. In 2003, she launched The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), an international nonprofit organization dedicated to compiling and disseminating scientific information about endocrine disruptors. Theo received numerous awards for her work as a scientist and activist, including four that have been named for Rachel Carson: The Rachel Carson Leadership Award from Chatham College in 1997, the Norwegian International Rachel Carson Prize in 1999, the SETAC Rachel Carson Award in 2003 and The Center for Science in the Public Interest ’s Rachel Carson Award in 2004.

Theo was an author and co-author of numerous publications and books on a wide range of topics. She served on a number of advisory panels, some of which included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Endocrine Disruptor Screening and Testing Advisory Committee; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; Council on the Future; US–Canada International Joint Commission, Work Group in Ecosystem Health, Science Advisory Board; and Healthy Child Healthy World, Board of Scientific Advisors. Throughout her career, Theo mentored many young scientists who are successful and influential in their chosen scientific fields.

Theo will be remembered as person who was passionate about her work with endocrine disruptors and for her uncompromising commitment to protecting human health and the health of the environment. Her approach to life is best captured in her favorite quote:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: That the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

 

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

 

Begin it now.

 

-William Hutchison Murray

On behalf of SETAC and its members, we express our sincere condolences to Theo’s family, co-workers and friends. Rest in peace Theo.

Visit endocrinedisruption.org to read more about Theo's work.

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