Abby Lippman (1939-2017) was a formidable presence in Montreal. Often seen striding down Sherbrooke Street, she was a force to be reckoned with. Lippman died on December 26, 2017, of natural causes. She was 78.
She specialized in feminist studies of applied genetic technologies as well as general issues in the politics of women’s health. Her primary focus was the relation of gender to health in the areas of biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
Lippman was a mentor to many young women who wanted to challenge the biomedical and patriarchal model of health care, and was a ferocious critic of the pharmaceutical industry.
Lippman was born on Dec. 11, 1939, in Brooklyn, N.Y., earned her BA in Comparative Literature at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and moved to Montreal in 1973. She earned her PhD in Human Genetics at McGill.
Even after 40 years of living in Montreal, Lippman never lost her thick Brooklyn accent.
Her thesis underlined the importance of taking serious account of the views, needs and wishes of people receiving genetic counselling. This attention to empowerment was to characterize all her academic work.
“My mother was absolutely wonderful – loving, caring and generous. There will be a memorial to her sometime in the spring when we can guarantee that weather will not affect anybody’s travel plans. In lieu of flowers a donation in her name to the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal would be greatly appreciated,” said her son, Chris “Zeke” Hand.
Hand recalled that as a boy growing up in New York in the 1960s, he was acutely aware of his mother advocating for women’s rights. “I know that social activism was sort of like her bread and butter,” he said. “It was extremely important to her.”
Daniel Weinstock, Director of the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy, said on Facebook: “Very saddened to hear of the passing of my colleague Abby Lippman. Abby was truly fearless and indefatigable in her work for social justice, be it in our own society or internationally. May her memory be for a blessing.”
Lippman had retired as Emerita Professor of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health at McGill, but continued to assist students. She was as renowned for championing social causes as she was for her critiques of reproductive technologies and other medical topics.
Lippman focused on problems linked to what she called “geneticization” (the tendency to attribute undue importance to genes as a determinant of human health) and “neo medicalization” (the trend of the pharmaceutical industry to catalogue and create illness).
Lippman was past president of the Canadian Women’s Health Coalition, and, after retirement, often worked at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, a college within Concordia University, established in 1978 to provide a foundation for the interdisciplinary pursuit of Women’s Studies.
Those who knew her say one constant in her life was being “too busy.” In addition to her activism she was devoted to her family and her grandchildren.
Just before she died, she wrote this poem, published on the Montreal literary website Montreal Serai.
Where are we when LOST in thoughts?
Where are the minds that a person loses:
the lost words and faces not recalled.
Where is our temper when we lose it?
What is lost in translation?
Where do these lost thoughts, feelings; these lost words, go?
Do they live? Do they die?
Surely they are not like the socks and gloves gone missing in a clothes dryer.
And what about the person for whom all this is lost?
What remains of her? And where is she to be found?
Lippman is survived by her son Chris, daughter Jessica, and her two grandchildren, Seonaid and Maxwell and her brother, Marc Lippman.
A memorial gathering is being planned for April and the family requests that in lieu of flowers a donation in her name to the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.
Rest In Peace, dear Abby. You were courageous, no-nonsense, and a real inspiration. You will be greatly missed. xxx
Prof. Lippman was indeed a charismatic and active proponent of women’s rights, and a force for positive change. She was well known in the medical genetics community and her PhD work, published as a series of papers on parents’ reactions to uncertainly in prenatal diagnosis, was required reading for generations of genetic counselling students. Prof. Lippman was still active in the teaching and mentoring of students when she died. She will be remembered fondly.