This story has been updated to reflect the version that ran in print.
Carolyn Walch Slayman, the deputy dean for academic and scientific affairs at the Yale School of Medicine, died Tuesday, Dec. 27. She was 79 years old.
Slayman had been undergoing treatment for breast cancer since early December, according to an email sent by Dean of the medical school Robert Alpern announcing her passing. She is survived by her husband of 57 years, Clifford Slayman, a professor of cellular and molecular physiology at the medical school, as well as her children Andrew Slayman and Rachel Platonov.
“She touched every aspect of our organization and embodied the best of what we try to accomplish each and every day,” said Alpern. “Her unflappable nature, keen intelligence, sense of humor and ability to hone in on a solution regardless of the problem at hand will be sorely missed,” Alpern wrote in his email.
Slayman is remembered by the medical school community as a pioneering individual. In 1984, she was the first woman to head a department at the School, now the Department of Genetics. In 1995, she was the School’s first deputy dean for academic and scientific affairs.
After completing an undergraduate degree at Swarthmore College, a Ph.D. at Rockefeller University and a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Cambridge, Slayman joined the Yale community as an assistant professor in 1967.
“Carolyn Slayman was an extraordinary individual –— her wisdom, depth of knowledge, sensitivity to individual faculty needs, and commitment to advancing research was implemented daily and unerringly,” said Patricia Pedersen, associate vice president and director of the Office of University Corporate & Foundation Relations. “Carolyn maintained an amazing sense of humor — she was a fantastic story teller -— no matter the situation. I particularly enjoyed her stories as a student at Rockefeller — ice skating on the roof, meeting Niels Bohr -— and, of course, stories about her beloved Maine.”
She served as the director of graduate studies in the genetics department from 1972 to 1984, at which point she was named chair — a position she would hold for 11 years.
Throughout her career, Carolyn fought for representation of women in science.
“Imagine what it was like when she started as a Yale faculty in the sixties: the school only just became co-ed and the president famously announced that more men had to be admitted to make up for the loss of future leaders in the female-diluted class. Once, she had to be brought in to a men’s-only Yale club, for an evening meeting, through the fire escape,” said Rajini Rao, professor of physiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a former researcher in Slayman’s lab at the University of Rochester. “Despite all this, or perhaps even because of it, Carolyn was a consummate diplomat, exquisitely serene and as unreadable as a sphinx when it came to professional critique of a colleague or their science. Where I was outspoken, she was measured.”
In 1995, Slayman was appointed to her current role as deputy dean for academic and scientific affairs. In this role, she focused on faculty recruitment and development. She also worked on the creation and advancement of research programs and facilities, including the Center for Genome Analysis at Yale’s West Campus.
According to Alpern’s email, Slayman came from a family of teachers and remained committed to training and educating young scientists and promising faculty members.
“What many of us remember, value, and treasure about Carolyn is that she had this extraordinary openness and willingness to help foster faculty and young people’s careers,” said Linda Mayes, special advisor to the dean of the medical school. “Things were incredibly busy, but she always had the time to talk and the time to think with people about their individual careers or their departments or grants. She gave up herself in an incredibly generous way.”
Carolyn worked to recruit Lynn Cooley to the faculty of the medical school, who served as its director of the Combined Program in Biological & Biomedical Sciences until July 2014, before Cooley moved to her current role as dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
Carolyn’s leadership in establishing the BBS program in the first place and helping it become a unique Yale program had a wide-reaching impact on graduate education at Yale, Cooley said.
“It will be difficult to adjust to life without Carolyn. I will sorely miss her wit, her wisdom and her warmth” said Cooley. “I am incredibly fortunate to be among the many, many people at Yale who have benefited from her calm presence as a mentor, colleague and friend.
A memorial service for Slayman will take place in the spring.