In Memory of Founding Faculty Member Edna Seaman
Professor Edna Seaman passed away peacefully at her home in Cambridge, MA, on September 20, 2012. In 1968, she became one of the founding faculty members of UMass Boston. She served in the Biology Department (1968-1980), playing a strong role in developing its cell and molecular biology curriculum; in addition, she served as Department Chair (1978-1980) until becoming Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (1980-1992).
After returning to the Biology Department, she retired from UMass Boston in 1996. She became Director of Institutional Planning and Research at Northeastern University (1997-2000).
Edna was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1932. When the Nazis invaded in 1939, she and her parents fled to Russia and spent nearly two years in a Siberian labor camp. Food was scarce, and her mother joked about making “soup on a nail,” the title Edna chose for her memoir completed in 2011. In the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Edna was wounded when a bomb fell in the street near her home; decades later, she would pronounce HP parking spaces to be “worth an arm and a leg.”
After recovering from her wounds in an Israeli hospital, she lived with relatives in New York, where she earned a B.S. in Biology from Brooklyn College (1956). In 1960, she received a Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Illinois, where she studied with the world-renowned molecular biologist, Sol Spiegelman.
Meanwhile, she married Dr. Richard Seaman, a clinical psychologist, and the couple moved to Boston, where she was a Post-Doctoral Fellow and Senior Research Associate in Biochemistry at Brandeis University (1960-1968). During a 1976-77 sabbatical, her husband and three children accompanied her to Israel, where she was Visiting Research Associate at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. Astonishing fellow biologists with her patience and dexterity in performing experiments one-handed, she variously mentored many students and faculty. As a deeply respected administrator, she also mentored many people who later assumed key roles in the University.
With a group of teenaged friends in Israel, Edna began a lifelong love of classical music. She enjoyed cooking as much as fine dining; her baklava and chiffon pie, “chocolate cloud,” became her family and friends’ favorites. An accomplished landscape photographer, she printed her own work in a darkroom at home. She knitted a Scandinavian sweater and helped friends plant a dogwood tree.
She became an avid cyclist and enjoyed riding her bright yellow adaptive recumbent trike on the Minuteman and Shining Sea bike paths. Visiting family members in Australia, she took her children to explore the barrier reef, and she enjoyed the Sydney Opera House.
In retirement she traced Mozart’s footsteps through Prague and Vienna, explored Alaskan glaciers and Galapagos marine habitats by Zodiac, and climbed the steep stairs of Machu Picchu.
When told her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in early 2008, Edna said, “I’m going to beat this thing!” She did beat it. She kept on seeing her friends, attending performances, visiting her family, writing her memoir, taking walks, getting ice cream from Toscanini’s, keeping her sense of humor and her interest in reading. She put one foot in front of the other. Her small steps got smaller and smaller, but she didn’t give up. As everyone agrees, “Nobody tried harder.”
Edna is survived by her son Erran Sharpe of Port Angeles, WA, and her daughters Jen Winfield of Johnson City, TX, and Caryn Newbrun of Oakland, CA, her former husband Richard Seaman of Port Angeles, WA, four grandchildren, her Australian and Israeli family, and many devoted friends.
Condolences and memories may be shared with the family via Erran.Sharpe@gmail.com and with friends via Joan.Liem@umb.edu. Contributions in Edna’s honor may be made to VNA Care Network and Hospice, 5 Federal St. Danvers, MA 01923 or to Celebrity Series of Boston, 20 Park Plaza, Suite 1032, Boston, MA 02116.