Dr. Kathleen M. Downey, Retired Professor of Medicine, Passes Away

Kathleen M. Downey, Ph.D., who spent 39 years on the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine faculty before retiring in 2007, passed away on November 7, 2016. She was 77.

Born and raised in Portland, Ore., Downey received her undergraduate education at the University of Portland. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Washington, did postdoctoral work for three years in Zurich, Switzerland, and joined the Miller School’s Department of Medicine in 1968. She became a tenured full professor in 1982 and received a secondary appointment in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1983.

“Dr. Downey was ever the stateswoman and always an engaging and contributing faculty colleague,” said Laurence B. Gardner, M.D., Interim Dean and former Chair of the Department of Medicine. “Though quiet in manner, her thoughtful and insightful role in the Department of Medicine will forever be appreciated.”

Downey received several NIH grants and served as a member of 31 different masters and Ph.D. committees. She and her research colleagues made many important discoveries, most notably the description of mammalian DNA polymerase delta and its accessory protein, the Proliferating Cell Nuclear Antigen. When she retired in 2007, her friends on the faculty said that her “gentle nature, kindness and intellectual openness” would be missed. That sentiment was recently echoed following her death by some who had worked most closely with her.

“I worked under Dr. Downey for 12 years, from 1980 to 1992,” said Carlos D. Castillo, M.S., assistant radiation safety officer in the University of Miami’s Department of Radiation Control. “Because my degree is in biochemistry, I had the privilege of being part of a team that she assembled — a diverse group of individuals from different disciplines whom she was able to galvanize to get the best from each one of us. She was an excellent leader, a superb scientist with high principles and, most of all, a tireless teacher.

“But I do not want to focus on the qualities that everyone knew about her, but rather on the human qualities that only those who worked at her side were able to experience. The grueling day-in, day-out work, the at-times monotonous repetition of experiments, the frustration of unexpected findings and ruined projects, the excitement of sometimes promising outcomes, coupled with her always-level character and wishful outlook on the future were a welcome stimulus to those who labored alongside her. Very few people have the privilege of experiencing the human side of bright individuals like Dr. Downey. I was one of those people, and I was inspired by her.”

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