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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. Ila Cote:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    Theo was a rare person in her clarity of commitment and constancy of action. Her dedication to protecting public health and the environment was unwavering. Those in regulatory agencies could always depend that she would be there to prod, poke and otherwise remind us of tasks to be done. She will be missed.

  2. Pilar Muñoz-Calero:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 11:13 AM

    Theo's work for environmental health has always been an inspiration to Alborada Foundation, because of her knowledge, courage and perseverance. We will follow her example and continue with her struggle, which is also ours.

  3. Kristin Schafer, PAN:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    Theo's fierce commitment to her work was such a gift to all of us. She fundamentally changed the public conversation about chemicals and health, and inspired so very many. As Pete Myers has said, truly a force of nature - for good. We will miss you!

  4. Fred vom Saal:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    When Theo first called me in 1990 she said that she thought that wildlife were being exposed to chemicals that were having endocrine disrupting effects similar to those seen in laboratory studies with experimental animals and humans. Theo then asked if I was aware of this wildlife/human connection (this became part of the title of her first book from the Wingspread conference), and when I said no, she said we have to meet for you to see the data. She arrived with piles of articles for me to read, and it was obvious to me that she had made a connection that was going to be paradigm changing.

    What was most memorable about Theo was her absolutely unlimited amount of energy; even in her 80s she worked with the intensity of a graduate student. Even walking along with her was more like a jog than a walk; she simply never slowed down right up to the end of her incredibly full life. Theo was the conductor of what has become a great orchestra consisting of scientists and non-scientists from every type of background imaginable. While some groups did not like the new sound from this orchestra, Theo was never negative about that; her optimism and enthusiasm were contagious and impacted everyone around her.

    Theo changed the course of my life, and I look at the day we met as having been the beginning of an incredibly exciting journey. While Theo will be missed, she was confident that a new movement had been set in motion that would continue after she was no longer here. Theo managed to change the course of environmental sciences, and she accepted the end of her life on earth with a sense of calm that can only happen if you know you have lived every moment of your life to the fullest extent possible. I will miss her creativity, boundless enthusiasm, love of life, and her friendship.

  5. Glen A. Fox:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 09:03 AM

    WERE GONNA MISS YOU MOM! ..A tribute to Theo Colborn; Committed Integrator, Facilitator, Mentor, Matriarch, Visionary and Friend

    I had no idea that soft-spoken, 60 year old granny in running shoes would turn my world upside down when we met on the patio of a eatery in Hull, Quebec in the summer of 1987. That conversation opened Pandora’s Box for me, and I realized the significance of my observations and research findings in Great Lakes Herring Gulls. From that day forward, Theo validated what I felt was my calling.  I had lost my mother to cancer 3 years previously, and I quickly adopted Theo as my “scientific mom”. She nurtured me and my science for the rest of my career. I am one on many such “kids”. She cared so much about each and everyone of us and our spouses and families, as well as our science! She clearly cared deeply about all of humanity, and every living thing, today and for generations yet unborn.

    In 1991 Theo brought a group of strangers, all scientists from varied disciplines together for a work session at Wingspread. We were not sure why we were there, or what we were supposed to do, but Theo the integrator and facilitator definitely did. By the time we left we were all family, committed, and energized. We all discovered that we each had a piece or pieces of a puzzle she called “endocrine disruption” and that together we were charting new territory. What was more evident was that the territory was large, treacherous, and extremely important. That Wingspread work session, like the many that followed, changed lives, careers, commitments, and regulatory paradigms. In my case they opened my eyes to the real tragedy I was witnessing in the Great Lakes and catalyzed my commitment to work with the Science Advisory Board of the International Joint Commission on Great Lakes Water Quality and to speak the truth to power.

    Theo is my vision of the “Energizer Bunny” …. she energized us, our science, our conversations, and meetings. Over the years she energized many an activist, politician, and housewife. Corporations and regulators feared her as a formidable, skilled, dedicated and unrelenting opponent. She has left us an incredible legacy. The torch is now ours to carry. Thank you mom, we love you!

    Glen A. Fox,

    Retired Research Scientist
    Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada
    Ottawa, Canada

  6. Lee Poston:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 08:59 AM

    Working with Theo and helping to promote "Our Stolen Future" was my introduction to WWF 19 years ago and it set the tone for my entire career. Simply put, Theo was an inspiration whose tireless devotion to the cause of endocrine disruptors had me in awe. She was always encouraging to "Young Turks" like me and was most concerned about her work living on after her. She needn't have worried. Her legacy will last for generations and I will always treasure the time I had with her and the lessons I learned.

  7. Barbara Bergmann:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 08:53 AM

    We are a small literary press and asked Theo whether we could use a transcript of her TEDx reading of her letter to the President in an issue of our magazine because we couldn’t find a single written source. She graciously sent us a copy and two photos for us to use. Her only stipulation was that we use the transcript uncut. We did so and are grateful for her generosity. We have made the transcript available to read and to download a copy of the file. http://eveningstreetpress.com/theo-colborn.html

  8. Hammad Khan, WWF:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 05:51 AM

    Rest in Peace, Theo. I still remember our first meeting in late 1990s when I was part of a small WWF TOXICS Team working with other IPEN partners for a strong POPs Treaty and other regional legislations to address EDC issues. I was always impressed by a strong confident woman facing the industry and its funded research. I still feel honoured when you wrote very inspirational comments on your book and gave it to me and I feel proud that I translated your book in Urdu, got it printed and distributed all over Pakistan, the first Urdu book on the topic. The planet desperately needs people like you.....

  9. Dawn Forsythe:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 05:30 AM

    Theo Colborn did more than anyone to help me see the dangers of endocrine disruptors, when I was lobbying for the pesticide industry. She helped to open my eyes to the lying claims of my employer and the industry's arguments. On a personal level, I considered her a friend, and I am fortunate to have known her. Rest in peace, beautiful lady.

  10. Andreas Gies, German Federal Environment Agency:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 03:38 AM

    For me this is a morning of sadness. I will miss Theo as many of my colleagues and friends in Europe will do. She inspired us with her book "Our Stolen Future". She changed our thinking and gave us courage when pressure upon us increased. In many talks I was infected by her optimism. Dear Theo, thank you for your thoughts and the little smile that has been always upon your face.

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