UC San Diego professor emeritus Helen Ranney, M.D., was never one to let barriers get in the way of her success. Tenacious and caring, Ranney—who passed away in 2010 at 89—became the first woman to head UC San Diego’s Department of Medicine in 1973. She was also the first female president of the Association of American Physicians. And adding to her many historic “firsts” as a pioneering female physician, Ranney left a landmark bequest of $470,000 to support the UC San Diego Library’s biomedical resources.
“I came to this university because it looked as though it was going to be very interesting because of the very good people they had. My devotion has been to new things that were getting started, and there was a lot of building to be done,” Ranney once said of UC San Diego.
Underscoring her passion for the campus she helped shape, Ranney’s cumulative gifts to UC San Diego totaled more than $1 million. The bequest was recently used to establish a collection endowment, the Helen M. Ranney Fund for Biomedical Library Materials. This legacy fund will provide continual support to maintain current and up-to-date materials relating to the biomedical field.
UC San Diego vice dean of medical education and one of Ranney’s former chief residents, Maria Savoia, M.D., recalled to the San Diego Union-Tribune: “She was one of the most intellectually gifted people I ever met … She was always looking for the next thing where she could contribute.”
Born in Cayuga County, New York, Ranney entered Barnard College with plans to study law, but decided to pursue medicine because, in her own words, “Medicine attempts to fix what it studies.” She attended Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, one of only five women in a class of 120. After earning her medical degree in 1947, she remained on the Columbia faculty for nearly two decades, until she was recruited to the newly established UC San Diego School of Medicine.
Ranney conducted groundbreaking research in the 1950s and 1960s, linking genetic factors with disease. In 1972, she received the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Achievement Award for her work in hemoglobin chemistry and sickle cell anemia, a disease that primarily affects African-Americans.
In the 1960s, she traveled to isolated and segregated North Carolina communities to continue her research on the rare blood disease. In those times, it was thought to be reckless for a white woman to travel alone to such areas. Ranney, however, was unfazed. She recalled in a 1991 interview with the San Diego Union that she found such concerns absurd and that she never considered not going to these communities to visit patients and their relatives.
Upon retirement from UC San Diego in 1990, her colleagues established the Helen M. Ranney Chair in Medicine, the medical school’s first faculty-funded endowed chair and the first research chair to be named after a professor. Ranney remained active as a physician and scientist, continuing her work as an advocate for medically underserved populations. In 2006, Ranney also gave a generous $100,000 gift to name the staff lounge in the Biomedical Library building in honor of retired UC San Diego librarian Phyllis Mirsky.
To learn more about supporting the UC San Diego Library with a gift or bequest, please visit http://libraries.ucsd.edu/about/give or call (858) 822-4554.