Alcoholism expert Dora Goldstein dies at 89

- By Ruthann Richter

Dora Goldstein

Pharmacologist Dora B. “Dody” Goldstein, MD, one of the world’s leading experts on alcoholism and a pioneer of women in medicine, died Oct. 2 at Stanford Hospital after suffering a fall in her Palo Alto home. She was 89.

A professor emerita of molecular pharmacology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Goldstein was widely recognized for her research on the effects of alcohol on the body. Her work established some of the basic biological principles underlying alcoholism, including the mechanisms of alcohol dependence and tolerance. One of the first women to graduate from Harvard Medical School, she also became a champion for women in medicine and served in leadership positions in the civil rights and gay rights movements.

“She was truly a remarkable person,” said James Ferrell, MD, PhD, a professor of chemical and systems biology who studied under Goldstein as a medical student and later became a colleague. “I think anybody who met her realized she was a very authoritative person, a very no-nonsense person. She was a very clear thinker and clear speaker. She was a great teacher. I went on to teach some of the subjects she taught me, and it was nice to follow in the footsteps of someone you really respected.”

A strong, independent woman, she also had a great heart in reaching out to others and was always seeking to rectify the world’s injustices, friends and family members said.

“She was very popular. She was a very kind person and thoughtful of people around her,” said her son, Joshua Goldstein.

Dora Benedict was born in 1922 in Milton, Mass., and attended Bryn Mawr College, where she studied chemistry. With the outbreak of World War II, she left college to do chemical research as part of the war effort. After the war, she was accepted to Harvard Medical School, along with 11 other women in the school’s first class of women. There, she studied under Avram Goldstein, MD, a specialist in addiction medicine who would later become her husband.

In 1955, the couple moved to Palo Alto to join the faculty at Stanford, becoming part of the legendary generation that built the basic science programs for which the medical school is known today. Avram Goldstein, who founded Stanford’s Department of Pharmacology, discovered some of the basic mechanisms of narcotic addiction and dependency and identified one class of endorphins. Dora Goldstein, meanwhile, focused on the physiology of alcohol addiction and the effects of alcohol on cell membranes.

She served as president of the Research Society on Alcoholism, a component of the National Council on Alcoholism, and in 1981 received the society’s Award for Scientific Excellence in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the field.  She was also the recipient of the prestigious Jellinek Memorial Award for alcohol studies in 1996. She published many journal articles and authored the definitive textbook on alcohol addiction, Pharmacology of Alcohol, published in 1983 by the Oxford University Press.

Throughout her career, she advocated on behalf of women in medicine. She was active in several organizations to promote women in the field, including the Professional Women of Stanford Medical School, the Joint Committee on the Status and Tenure of Women and the Katharine McCormick Society.

“Dr. Goldstein was dedicated to supporting women faculty in the School of Medicine,” said Ann Arvin, MD, the university’s dean of research and a professor of pediatrics and of microbiology and immunology. In particular, Arvin said, Goldstein was responsible for securing funds from the Katherine McCormack bequest to create the McCormack Faculty and Postdoctoral Fellows Awards, which have benefited many women over the past 30 years.

In 1994, Goldstein established the first mentoring project for young faculty at Stanford’s medical school to promote recruitment and retention of valued physician-scientists — both women and men. She was dedicated to the cause, hosting lunches to make faculty feel more welcome and to encourage community, said Suzanne Pfeffer, PhD, professor of biochemistry.

Goldstein also participated in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, serving as vice president of the local chapter of the NAACP. In the 1990s, she became a leader in the gay rights movement, marching every year in San Francisco’s Gay Pride Parade and serving for a decade on the national board of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG.

She and her husband lived on the Stanford campus for 50 years, where she liked to garden, sunbathe, knit and cook, according to her son, Joshua.

She is survived by her husband and their four children: Margaret Wallace of Longmont, Colo.; Dan Goldstein of Port Townsend, Wash.; Joshua Goldstein of Amherst, Mass.; and Michael Goldstein of San Francisco. She is also survived by her sister, Margaret, of Harwich, Mass., and five grandchildren.

A memorial will be held Oct. 9 at 2 p.m. at Vi Living, 620 Sand Hill Road, Palo Alto. The family suggests memorial donations to PFLAG, 1828 L St. NW, Suite 660, Washington, DC, 20036.

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