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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 19, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 03
AmfAR founder Mathilde Krim dies at 91
Section One
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AmfAR founder Mathilde Krim dies at 91

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Mathilde Krim, cytogenetics researcher and founder of the Foundation for AIDS Research (AmfAR), died on January 15. She was 91.

'My greatest AIDS hero died a few hours ago,' activist Peter Staley wrote on his Facebook page the day after her death.

'Dr. Mathilde Krim, founder of AmfAR, warrior against homophobia and AIDS-related stigma, dedicated defender of science and public health, and mother-figure and mentor to countless activists, will leave a deep hole in the continued fight against AIDS - a fight she dedicated her life to.'

Krim was born in Como, Italy, and received her PhD in biology from the University of Geneva in 1953.

As a college student in Switzerland, Krim converted to Judaism. While there, she assisted members of the Zionist organization Irgun in obtaining weapons from former French resistance members, prior to Israel's independence.

From 1953 to 1959, she pursued research in cytogenetics and cancer-causing viruses at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, where she was a member of the team that first developed a method for the prenatal determination of sex.

After divorcing her first husband, David Danon, Krim moved to New York and joined the research staff of Cornell University Medical School. In 1958 she married Arthur B. Krim, head of United Artists and later founder of Orion Pictures.

He was also an active member of the Democratic Party and advisor to Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Jimmy Carter, and the couple became active supporters of the African-American civil rights movement, the movements for independence in Rhodesia and South Africa, the nascent LGBT rights movement, and many other civil liberties and human rights movements.

In 1962 Krim became a research scientist at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, and from 1981 to 1985, she was the director of its interferon lab.

Soon after the first cases of a mysterious new disease that would later be called AIDS were reported in 1981, Krim recognized that the disease raised grave scientific and medical questions and would have important social and political consequences. As both a scientists and an activist, she dedicated herself to increasing the public's awareness of AIDS and to a better understanding of its cause, its modes of transmission, and its epidemiologic pattern.

In 1983, Krim established the AIDS Medical Foundation. Later the foundation merged with a similar organization and became the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmfAR). Partnering with Elizabeth Taylor, Krim raised huge amounts of money to fund the organization, as well as contributing generous amounts of her own fortune.

She also used her considerable public relations skills to raise awareness about AIDS and secure public funds for AIDS research.

'As an HIV-positive man who has been living with the virus for over 13 years, I know that I would not be alive today without the efforts of Dr. Mathilde Krim,' New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wrote in a statement.

'I met her during my first trip to New York City, at age 18. Little did I know the important role she would play in my life. My thoughts and prayers go to the family and friends of Dr. Krim. Her legacy will live on in the countless lives she saved.'

Krim was awarded 16 doctorates honoris causa and has received numerous other honors and distinctions. In August 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, in recognition of her 'extraordinary compassion and commitment.' In 2003, Krim received the Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged, given out annually by the Jefferson Awards.

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