In Memoriam: Iglewski, Barbara H.

In Memoriam: Iglewski, Barbara H.


Barbara H. Iglewski, PhD, past president (1987/88) of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), passed away on December 10, 2023, at the age of 85. Iglewski, known for her groundbreaking research on bacterial quorum-sensing, served as chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry for 23 years.

Full Obituary, originally published on the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry website (published here with permission of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry) posted below:

Scientist Barbara H. Iglewski, PhD, the first female department chair at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, passed away on Sunday, December 10 at the age of 85.

Recruited to Rochester from Oregon Health & Science University in 1986, Iglewski led the department of Microbiology and Immunology for 23 years. Known as a tireless worker, staunch advocate for promising young scientists, and a listening ear for all, she grew the department’s faculty members and trainees, dramatically increased research funding, and created an academic family that built lasting relationships in and out of the research labs.

When she arrived in Rochester and for many years after, Iglewski was the sole woman amongst the school’s scientific department chairs. She went above and beyond the call of duty to prove herself, working all day and frequently returning to work late at night. In 1987, a year into her tenure as department chair, Iglewski served as president of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the largest single life science society in the United States.

“She had a drive that you would not believe and her energy was just incredible,” said Dara W. Frank, PhD, who was a post-doctoral fellow in Iglewski’s lab at Oregon and moved with her to Rochester. “I will never understand how she was able to do what she did every day and also be able to fulfill all the demands of home and family.”

A role model for a whole generation of researchers, Iglewski was always on the lookout for talent and had a knack for “seeing” important qualities in people that they did not necessarily see in themselves. She took great pleasure in giving her faculty, students and trainees opportunities for advancement, and as long as they worked hard, she continued to open doors whenever and wherever she could.

Iglewski was especially interested in bolstering the careers of young women, both in Rochester and across the country. From 1990 to 1999 she led the publications board for ASM. At that time, very few women served on editorial boards, and Iglewski made it her mission to change that. She helped many women obtain editorial positions at various scientific journals, and she was also tireless in her efforts to advocate for salary equity for female scientists.

“Barbara paved the way for many other female scientists and leaders both here at the University of Rochester and across the country” said SMD’s Vice Dean for Research Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., who succeeded her as chair of Rochester’s department of Microbiology and Immunology and considered her a great mentor and friend. “She left the department immeasurably stronger than she found it.  As chair, she doubled the department’s tenure-track faculty members to 21 and grew its NIH funding from $1 million to $12.3 million, while also putting Rochester on the map with her groundbreaking research on bacterial quorum-sensing.  At a personal level, she was an inspiring leader, a wonderful mentor to me and many others, and someone who earned the abiding loyalty of her staff.  In the words of her long-time assistant, Brenda Knorr, she was simply a ‘one-in-a-million.’”

In 2015, Iglewski became the first woman from the School of Medicine and Dentistry to be inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Selected for her research on how bacteria cause infections, Iglewski held the Hall in very high regard and was overwhelmed by the honor. At the time of her induction, she noted that “as you move forwards, always reach back to help others”—a belief that was at the heart of her mentoring philosophy.

The daughter of a country physician, Iglewski grew up accompanying her father on house calls and playing with microscopes in his office. Her passion for science was no surprise, and her discovery that bacteria use a communication system—a type of chemical language—to coordinate attacks on human cells and initiate disease launched an entire field of study into how the system works in many types of bacteria.

All who worked with her recall her unfailing honesty; she would say what was on her mind and never minced words. Though she was tough and direct, former faculty members, trainees, students, and staff say that you could tell her anything, and if you needed something, she got it for you. Kathy Peters, one of Iglewski’s closest friends and the administrator of Microbiology and Immunology for a quarter century, says that under Iglewski’s watch the department was like a family.

Frank, a professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, reiterated the sentiment: “Her time was like gold but her door was always open to instruct each of us, to listen to our concerns and to immediately solve whatever problem was impeding our progress.”

After earning her PhD in microbiology from Penn State University, Iglewski held her first position as an instructor at the Oregon Health & Science University. In addition to serving as chair of Microbiology and Immunology, she was the first female vice provost for research and graduate education at the University of Rochester, a position she held from 1995 to 1998. She was recognized with the University of Rochester’s George Eastman Medal in 2019, which honors individuals whose achievements and service embody the University of Rochester’s highest ideals. She also received the School of Medicine and Dentistry’s Lifetime Mentoring Award in 2009, the Susan B. Anthony Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001, and the Arthur Kornberg Research Award in 1999.

She was recognized by the Institute of Scientific Information as a highly cited scientist, a group that makes up less than 0.5 percent of all publishing researchers. In 2017 she received an honorary degree from her undergraduate Alma Mater, Alleghany College.

Iglewski was predeceased by her husband, Wally; sister, Lois (Hotham) Zinsmeyer; and triplet grandsons, Abe, Ben and Adam Iglewski. She is survived by her sons, Eric (Connie) Iglewski and Bill Iglewski; grandchildren, Ella, Isaac, Kinsie and Zack; great-granddaughter, Ariella; brother, Harland “Sandy” Hotham III; and several nieces and nephews.

Obituary By:
Emily Boynton
University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Photo courtesy of University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry