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Len Blackwell, In Memoriam

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Anna Halpine, Dr. Pilar Vigil, PhD, Len Blackwell, PhD at his lab at Massey University in New Zealand.

December 11, 2020, New York, New York – In Memoriam of Len Blackwell. 

Our friend and collaborator, Len Blackwell, died yesterday morning.

He trained originally as an organic chemist (PhD, Canterbury), but expanded into the fields of biochemistry and reproductive physiology. During a sabbatical from Massey University he studied under Professor James Brown at the University of Melbourne, Australia, where he collaborated on the development of the Ovarian Monitor. The Ovarian Monitor remains one of the only true quantitative point-of-care devices in existence.

This led to a 30-year friendship with Jim Brown, and a research collaboration that has continued the legacy of that early work. Through Jim, Len met Dr. Pilar Vigil which led to a decades-long friendship and research collaboration, as well as Len’s involvement with the RHRI.

I had the great pleasure to meet Len in New Zealand in the fall of 2015. Most of our time was spent in his lab, where we reviewed his research, devices, and experiments, and shared the dreams we all had to serve women and their health. That still left time to learn about the right types of Marmite, discuss Rugby (the All Blacks won shortly after we left), and hear his stories about Jim Brown (“that genius”) and the many other collaborators he remembered (all with affection and gratitude). We took walks along the trails of Massey University, where Len’s love of nature and his country were communicated to us.

We shared in his grief when his beloved wife Pam passed away in January of 2016. I am grateful to have had the chance to meet her, and to meet her with him.

We’ve had many online chats since then, though not as many as I now wish. This past week we were trying to find a time to schedule a call, which was delayed until next week due to the Christmas concert rehearsals he was engaged in. We went back and forth trying to locate a good photo to recognize the importance of him and his work to our current work and research with FEMM.

Len always felt that he needed to do more, to secure and ensure the scientific legacy of Jim Brown and to get it to women everywhere. He recognized the value of time, and worried that he would be called home before he was ready to give an account of what he had done. This October, we had planned to meet in Australia, to take the live footage we wanted of Len talking about his life and work, and sharing the memories and anecdotes he thought should be recorded about the life and work of Jim Brown. Covid-19 delayed those plans, until, now, they can be no more.

Rest in peace, Len Blackwell. To a man who was a great scientist, researcher and teacher, a loving friend and father, a great friend and a good man: you will be truly missed.

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