A Tribute to Marilyn Gist Farquhar (1928-2019)

Personal Comments
Dorothy Ford Bainton, MD
Former Vice Chancellor, UCSF

Dorothy Ford Bainton, MD

Although Marilyn Farquhar’s scientific productivity is well documented in 319 publications, perhaps her pathway is less well known. She was raised on a farm, as a 3rd generation Californian, in Tulare, CA. After graduation from UCB (1952) and 2 years of medical school (UCSF), she began her scientific career by working toward a PhD in Experimental Pathology. She made this change because her husband, Dr. John Farquhar, discouraged her from taking the clinical years of medical school. Luckily for her, the chairman of Pathology had just purchased a new RCA 3B electron microscope and asked her to investigate how to prepare tissue for analysis.

Her thesis project was to characterize the electron microscopic changes during hormone secretion in the anterior pituitary of the rat. She used the approach of an experimental endocrinologist, target organ ablation and hormone replacement. When her husband continued his training at the University of Minnesota, she followed and was fortunate to work with Robert Good and Robert Vernier. With them she made the first EM studies of renal biopsies. Her husband next traveled to NYC for further training. She was accepted as a post-doctoral trainee in the laboratory of George Palade at Rockefeller University (1958-1962). Having virtually worked alone as a graduate student, she then began her formal training in the new field of cell biology, in its “birthplace,” the Rockefeller. It is of interest that Palade’s doctoral thesis in anatomy in Romania was on “The Urinary Tubule of the Dolphin” collected from the Black Sea. Years later, these early pituitary and renal studies led to extensive studies of autophagy in the pituitary, named crinophagy by DeDuve, and “tight junctions,” with Palade.

After the birth of two sons, she again followed her husband back to California and joined the Pathology faculty at USCF (1962-1970). She then directed her own laboratory while training graduate and post-doctoral fellows. (I was her first post-doctoral fellow from 1963-1969). In 1969 she returned to the Rockefeller as a full Professor and joined the Palade-Siekevitz group. In 1970, she and Palade were married. From that time on Farquhar and Palade frequently collaborated, where there was mutual interest, but they maintained separate labs and separate programs throughout their entire careers at the Rockefeller, Yale, and UCSD universities.

One pauses here to reflect on the peripatetic pathway to education that was common for talented women at that time, i.e. follow your husband, have children, keep working with all the compromising that ensues. Despite all these changes, Marilyn had the brilliance and persistence to make the most of every physical change. In addition, she was a wonderful role model for young women attempting to break into a man’s world. She advised women to follow their scientific interests with passion and persistence. She also broke with tradition and showed young women how they could have both a family with children, and a scientific career. It would take negotiating with superiors for reduced time when children were very young and returning to a more active schedule as children became more self-sufficient. Her own career proved the value of such a time investment by her superiors and to her in the supervision of her own trainees. Over her long career she helped guide the evolution of the fields of cell biology and experimental pathology. She tutored 64 trainees, many of whom were women. She will be greatly missed.