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Theo Colborn, 1927–2014

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For nearly 30 years TEDX's founder Dr. Theo Colborn dedicated herself to revealing the dangers of endocrine disrupting chemicals to wildlife, humans and the environment. More recently she alerted us to the threats posed by chemicals associated with oil and gas development.

Theo’s visionary leadership and passion shone most brilliantly when she made direct connections between new ideas, scientists whose work confirmed them, impacted individuals, and people in positions to change what needed changing. She will be remembered for many generations to come, generations that she worked tirelessly to protect.

Below is a memorial of stories that people submitted to TEDX after her death on December 14, 2014.  If you have a story you would like to share, please submit it at the bottom of this page.

Comments (87)

  1. Tony Maciorowski:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 05:01 PM

    I first met Theo when my EPA colleague, Gary Timm and I, were assigned to work with Lynn Goldman on EPA's first Endocrine Disruptor Screening and Testing Task Force in 1996. I have many memories of Theo,that stem from that work. There are too many to describe here. Suffice it to say that to know Theo was to hold her in high esteem, unless of course you had a hidden agenda. I remember one scientist who had spent a career defending various chemicals remarking that Theo was dangerous. I recalled both of them today, thinking that Theo is leaving a wide national and international scientific and policy legacy. I suspect the anonymous scientist I referred to above will leave little of lasting scientific significance. But Theo! As my friend Gary remarked yesterday -- It was a pleasure to know her! She once told me she evolved from a pharmacologist to an agnostic pharmacologist when it came to drugs and chemicals. I laughed then, and can't help but smile now. There have always been too few like her. Perhaps that why she so bright.

  2. Lin Kaatz Chary:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 04:42 PM

    Theo Colborn was one of the biggest influences in my life in the environmental health movement and the Great Lakes environmental movement. I was incredibly privileged to have known her and learned from her on many occasions at conferences and meetings, beginning at the first time I heard her speak at a Great Lakes United annual meeting in 1989. I remember clearly sitting in the front row and listening absolutely transfixed as I learned for the first time about blocked enzymes, and hormone-mimicking chemicals that fit like keys into locks.

    I equate her influence and contributions with those of Rachel Carson and believe she will be an iconic figure in the history and annals of endocrine disruption and the impacts of toxic chemicals on human health. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to be in the movement at the same time as she was, and while I know that we all feel this as a staggering loss, I also know that her spirit lives on in us and everyone whom she inspired so deeply.

    Carol, thank you for all you have done, and know that you have both our tremendous gratitude and continuing support in carrying on Theo’s work, Please accept my condolences to you and Theo’s family, and my deep wishes for healing and renewal in the New Year.

  3. Eldon Muehling:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 04:23 PM

    Theo has been a very dear acquaintance of mine and for many years. Until recently, we exchanged Christmas cards. At one time she was a distributor of our Pure Water products...stainless steel home water distillers. She was a speaker at several of our Pure Water Company functions many years ago now. She was always well received at such events.

    I first became acquainted with Theo through an older couple who were dear friends of hers and Pure Water Distributors of our products in Colorado at that time.
    I remember her early experience in Colorado, collecting samples of water one summer, for testing, when she filled in for her daughter, who was going on vacation. She was appalled by the length of time between the gathering of the water samples and the actual testing...sometimes as much as 6 months!! I also remember that she did research with water borne insects which led her to the finding that one could tell some of the contaminants were in the water by analyzing the exoskeletons of the insects that lived in the water.

    I am so sorry that I did not get to know any of her family. I hope that any of her children take after their mother. She was definitely a real fighter for causes she believed in. Those of us at Pure Water who knew her, will miss her and are so glad for having known her.

  4. Gordon Binder:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 03:34 PM

    I worked with Theo at The Conservation Foundation and World Wildlife Fund in the 1980s and helped promote The State of the Great Lakes Environment. I recall her telling me how she came to her critical insight: staring at a matrix of species and observed effects until the "aha" moment hit. Later, I wrote about this work for The Conservation Foundation Letter and followed her writings and research. She upended the dose-response equations that public policy had heretofore relied on, and ushered in, in my book, a new understanding of how chemicals, even at very low doses, can adversely affect fetal development. Would that the regulatory system could move faster; it's been a quarter of a century and we're still dealing with endocrine disrupters. Her legacy is secure. All who knew her, all who benefited from her work remember her fondly and with great admiration.

  5. John Vandenberg:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 03:13 PM

    Young scientists have many heros to admire but few heroines. One they do have is Theo who, for much of her 87 years with us, played a pivotal roll in alerting scientists and the public about the long lasting effects of exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds in our environment. Her work and that of others who have followed her informed us that the effects are especially harmful early in life, can be potent at very low concentrations and, we recently learned, they can be transmitted from one generation to the next. She brought these findings to other scientists and, very importantly, to decision makers in government. Her impact will reverberate though our science long into the future.

  6. Robert R. Winkler:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 02:11 PM

    Thank you Theo for all your dedicated work to humanity. We love you and know you're in a better place.

    With all my respect.

    Robert R. Winkler
    International Institute of Risk Management
    Concerned Citizen of Northern Colorado

  7. Susan Wallace Haire:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 02:02 PM

    I met Theo at an open meeting of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. I was there to speak my truth of being knocked down by a toxic cloud from a fracked well. At that moment I hadn't a clue what a force of nature I had met. Over the years I came to understand the magnitude of that force known as Theo Colborn.

    Attending several meetings at which Theo presented, I clearly saw her passion, intelligence, knowledge, dedication, energy, and authenticity. The air around her seemed to crackle with her personal electricity.

    A magnificent scientist and professional, Theo was also an outstanding friend. She always had time to offer help, connect people for mutual benefit, and engage on a personal level.

    Her super-charged energy level was focused on the understanding and betterment of the planet and all things living here. She was an activist for many causes. Unless one knew Theo it would be difficult to understand how one person could organize and accomplish so very much good. I consider myself most fortunate to have known Theo.

    Thank you, Theo, for the amazing gifts you provided for us. You will be missed.







  8. Cate Leger:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 01:52 PM

    I met Theo first as a young staff person working on Capitol Hill in the '80s. Theo was just putting together the pieces on sublethal effects of pollution in the Great Lakes region. As she explained the birth deformities, the parenting problems and reproductive issues of animals exposed to the persistent toxics in the Great Lakes, I started to see pollution in a whole new light. It wasn't just about number of cancers or number of deaths, it was about all of the other aspects of health that we take for granted. I think the most prescient thing she said to me back then was that the levels of pollutants in the environment were high enough to affect the well being of all generations to come, a message she made clear in "Our Stolen Future."

    She was lovely, kind, compassionate and so articulate. I hope her message was strong enough that we can steer quickly toward a future of safer and safer chemistry.

  9. Nicolas Olea:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 01:36 PM

    I met Theo for the first time at a scientific meeting in Windspread, shortly after she and her colleagues released the Windspread Scientific Statement on Endocrine Disruption (1991). Profs. Soto and Sonnenschein from Boston introduced us and I was deeply impressed by her spirit and convictions. She persuaded me to focus my research on the human effects of ED ,and I have followed her recommendations ever since. I am profoundly indebted to her for her teaching and friendship.

  10. Gina Solomon:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 01:22 PM

    Theo was such an amazing person. She went back to school and got her master's and her PhD at about age 50, rocked the field of toxicology by developing the "endocrine disruptor hypothesis" (as it was termed at the time) at about age 70, and was fighting fracking with science in her 80s. If each of us can only aspire to be half as effective as her at half her age, we'd all be doing pretty well. For those of us who are getting older, we should feel inspired that our biggest contributions can happen late in life.

    Theo was a huge inspiration to me when I first started my career as a young scientist-activist at NRDC. We served on the EDSTAC together, and suffered through interminable meetings in windowless hotel ballrooms. Those were tough times, but it was always a joy to spend time with Theo and to hear what connections her creative mind was making. Each time we saw each other she was as excited as a child about some new scientific development. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with her, and I will do my best to carry on a small part of Theo's legacy.

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