Marilyn Hess, Pharmacology


Marilyn Hess, professor emerita of pharmacology at Penn, died of natural causes on October 20 at the Quadrangle in Haverford, Pennsylvania. She was 90 years old.

Dr. Hess was born in Erie, Pennsylvania. She earned her BS in chemistry and biology from Villa Maria College in 1946. She then studied at Penn, earning her MS in physiological chemistry and physiology in 1949 and her PhD in pharmacology (the first granted at Penn) and physiology in 1957. She later continued her studies, completing her MSEd at Penn in 1985.

Dr. Hess was a research assistant at Penn from 1946-1950. She joined the faculty in 1951 as an assistant instructor in physiology, and later that year, in pharmacology. She left her post in physiology in 1952 and rose through the ranks in pharmacology; she became an assistant professor in 1963, associate professor in 1968 (Almanac November 1968) and full professor in 1976.

She became the course coordinator for the Pharmacology Graduate Group in 1976 and the course director of Pharmacology 100 in 1985. Garret A. FitzGerald, the Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Professor in Translational Medicine and Therapeutics, called Dr. Hess’ Pharmacology 100 “the best integrated course on pharmacology for medical and graduate students developed at any university in the country. Students taking her course consistently outperformed in this discipline in national standardized tests.”

Dr. Hess served as acting chair of the department of pharmacology from 1987-1988. She served on the Faculty Senate and its Senate Executive Committee and on the University Council (Almanac November 23, 1976) and its Steering Committee (Almanac May 24, 1977).

She received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching (Almanac April 4, 1989) and the School of Medicine’s Special Dean’s Award (Almanac April 21, 1998).

Dr. Hess pursued her research on the relationship between perturbed metabolism and cardiac function. She obtained a prestigious Research Career Development Award from the NIH and became an Established Investigator of the American Heart Association (AHA). She coupled her science with community service, particularly to the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics and the AHA, often participating on leadership committees. She also served on the examination committee of the National Board of Medical Examiners.

Dr. Hess retired from Penn in 1994. After her retirement, she served as treasurer/secretary of the Association of Senior and Emeritus Faculty of the School of Medicine (ASEF).

“It is as a teacher supreme that Marilyn will be most fondly remembered,” said Dr. FitzGerald. “She wasn’t just widely admired, but also widely loved. It was easy to see why. She was a highly intelligent, feisty, funny and generous person, devoted to her students, but also serving as energizer bunny and social catalyst amongst the faculty. Marilyn cared for us all—new children or grandchildren, sickness or major life events, she cared for us as if we were her family. Of course, Marilyn had her own family who loved her too; we only got to borrow her. Marilyn was a fount of knowledge—pharmacology, physiology, hiking, opera, sports or beer—she loved life and it showed. We shall miss this warm soul of our department, consoled only by the echoes of her humor and the attention with which she mentored her successors.”

Dr. Hess is survived by her nieces, Karla Cook, Lesley Desautels and Gillian Desautels; her nephew, the Honorable Kevin Hess; eight grandnieces and grandnephews, and numerous great-grandnieces and great-grandnephews.

Funeral services will be held on Friday, November 6 at Minshall, Shropshire-Bleyler Funeral Home, 608 South Old Middletown Road, Media, PA 19063. Visiting hours will be from 10-11 a.m., followed by a memorial service from 11 a.m.-noon. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to the American Heart Association ( or the American Cancer Society (