Shyamala Gopalan

Shyamala Gopalan
Shyamala Gopalan Harris died 2009.jpg
BornApril 7, 1938
DiedFebruary 11, 2009(2009-02-11) (aged 70)
Oakland, California, U.S.
Other namesGopalan Shyamala, G. Shyamala
Education
Known forProgesterone receptor biology and applications to breast cancer
Spouse(s)
(
m. 1964; div. 1971)
Children
Parent(s)P.V. Gopalan (father)
Rajam (mother)
Scientific career
Institutions
ThesisThe isolation and purification of a trypsin inhibitor from whole wheat flour (1964)

Shyamala Gopalan (professionally, Gopalan Shyamala or G. Shyamala) (April 7, 1938 – February 11, 2009) was an American biologist born in British-administered India whose work in isolating and characterizing the progesterone receptor gene stimulated advances in breast biology and cancer.[1]

She was the mother of Kamala Harris, a U.S. senator and the Democratic vice presidential nominee for the 2020 election; and Maya Harris, a lawyer and political commentator.[2]

Early life and education

Shyamala was the daughter of an Indian civil servant, P. V. Gopalan and his wife, Rajam.[3] Gopalan had begun his professional life as a stenographer and as he rose through the ranks of the civil service, he moved the family every few years between New Delhi, Bombay (now Mumbai), and Calcutta (now Kolkata).[4] He and Rajam were both brahmins from Tamil Nadu state, and had married in an arranged marriage; however, according to Shyamala's brother, Balachandran, in raising the children, their parents had been broad-minded, and all of the children were to lead somewhat unconventional lives.[5] A gifted singer of South Indian classical music, Shyamala won a national competition in it as a teenager.[6]

Shyamala studied Home Science at the Lady Irwin College in New Delhi, a leading women's college in India. Her father thought the subject—which taught skills considered to be helpful in homemaking—was a mismatch for her abilities; her mother expected the children to seek careers in medicine, engineering, or the law.[7] In 1958, aged 19, Shyamala unexpectedly applied to a masters program in nutrition and endocrinology at the University of California, Berkeley and was accepted. Her parents used some of their retirement savings to pay for her tuition and board during the first year.[8] Not having a phone line in their home, they communicated with her after her arrival in the US by writing aerogrammes. She eventually earned a PhD in nutrition and endocrinology at UC Berkeley in 1964.[9] Shyamala's dissertation was titled The isolation and purification of a trypsin inhibitor from whole wheat flour.[10]

Career

Shyamala conducted research in UC Berkeley's Department of Zoology and Cancer Research Lab. She worked as a breast cancer researcher at University of Illinois and University of Wisconsin. She worked for 16 years at Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research and McGill University Faculty of Medicine. She served as a peer reviewer for the National Institutes of Health and as a site visit team member for the Federal Advisory Committee. She also served on the President's Special Commission on Breast Cancer. She mentored dozens of students in her lab. For her last decade of research, Shyamala worked in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.[11]

Research

Shyamala's research led to advancements in the knowledge of hormones pertaining to breast cancer.[12][1] Her work in the isolation and characterization of the progesterone receptor gene in mice changed research on the hormone-responsiveness of breast tissue.[1]

Personal life

Shyamala joined the Black civil rights movement at Berkeley in the early 1960s.[13] At a protest, she met Donald J. Harris, a Jamaican graduate student in economics at UC Berkeley.[13] In 1963, they were married, without following conventions of introducing Harris to Shyamala's parents beforehand or having the ceremony in her hometown in India.[13] In the later 1960s, Donald and Shyamala took their daughters, Kamala, then four or five years old, and Maya, two years younger, to newly independent Zambia, where Shyamala's father, Gopalan, was on an advisory assignment.[14] After Shyamala had divorced Donald in the early 1970s, she took her daughters several times to India to visit her parents in Chennai to which they had retired.[15][16]

The children also visited their father's family in Jamaica as they grew up.[17] Donald Harris is now an emeritus professor of economics at Stanford University.[18]

Death

Shyamala died of colon cancer in Oakland on 11 February 2009.[1] In lieu of flowers, she requested that donations be made to the organization Breast Cancer Action.[1] Later in 2009, her daughter Kamala Harris carried her ashes to Chennai on the southeastern coast of peninsular India and scattered them in the Indian Ocean waters.[19]

Selected publications

References

  1. ^ a b c d e "In Memoriam: Dr. Shyamala G. Harris". Breast Cancer Action. June 21, 2009. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  2. ^ "Biden picks Kamala Harris as VP nominee".
  3. ^ Bengali, Shashank; Mason, Melanie (October 25, 2019), The progressive Indian grandfather who inspired Kamala Harris, Los Angeles Times, retrieved April 24, 2020 Quote: "In her 2019 memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” Harris wrote that Gopalan had been part of India’s independence movement, but family members said there was no record of him having been anything other than a diligent civil servant. Had he openly advocated ending British rule, he would have been fired, Balachandran said."
  4. ^ Bengali, Shashank; Mason, Melanie (October 25, 2019), The progressive Indian grandfather who inspired Kamala Harris, Los Angeles Times, retrieved April 24, 2020 Quote: "He started out as a stenographer, and moved the family from New Delhi to Mumbai to Kolkata as he climbed the ranks of the civil service."
  5. ^ Bengali, Shashank; Mason, Melanie (October 25, 2019), The progressive Indian grandfather who inspired Kamala Harris, Los Angeles Times, retrieved April 24, 2020 Quote: "It sounds today like a classic immigrant tale, but Harris’ grandparents’ broad-minded values were uncommon for the India of that time. All four of his children bucked convention in their own ways. ... Gopalan was a Brahmin, part of a privileged elite in Hinduism’s ancient caste hierarchy. In post-independence India, convention destined Brahmin offspring for arranged marriages and comfortable careers in academia, government service or the priesthood – if they were men. Women were not expected to work at all. Gopalan was born in 1911 in Painganadu, a village ringed by temples about 180 miles south of Chennai, then known as Madras. His marriage to Rajam, who was raised in a nearby district of Tamil Nadu state, was arranged."
  6. ^ Bengali, Shashank; Mason, Melanie (October 25, 2019), The progressive Indian grandfather who inspired Kamala Harris, Los Angeles Times, retrieved April 24, 2020 Quote: "Shyamala was a gifted singer, specializing in the classical Carnatic music of southern India, a discipline she learned from her mother. She won a gold medal in a national competition and occasionally sang on the radio, earning a small bit of cash."
  7. ^ Bengali, Shashank; Mason, Melanie (October 25, 2019), The progressive Indian grandfather who inspired Kamala Harris, Los Angeles Times, retrieved April 24, 2020 Quote: "At Lady Irwin College, then one of the top women’s institutions in New Delhi, Shyamala studied home science, which encompassed nutrition, textiles and childhood development. It mainly trained students for lives as homemakers, and her father seemed to think the subject was beneath her. “What is home science?” Balachandran remembered him needling her. “Are you learning how to invite guests?” Rajam, who was active in raising funds for social causes, was determined that the children pursue careers in medicine, engineering or the law...."
  8. ^ Bengali, Shashank; Mason, Melanie (October 25, 2019), The progressive Indian grandfather who inspired Kamala Harris, Los Angeles Times, retrieved April 24, 2020 Quote: "In 1958, she surprised them by applying for a master’s program at UC Berkeley, a campus they had never heard of. She was 19, the eldest of their four children, and had never set foot outside India. Her parents dug into Gopalan’s retirement savings to pay her tuition and living costs for the first year."
  9. ^ Bengali, Shashank; Mason, Melanie (October 25, 2019), The progressive Indian grandfather who inspired Kamala Harris, Los Angeles Times, retrieved April 24, 2020 Quote: "When Shyamala left to study nutrition and endocrinology at Berkeley, eventually earning a PhD, most Indian households didn’t have phone lines. The family stayed in touch through letters, handwritten on lightweight, pale-blue stationery known as aerograms that took about two weeks to travel between India and California."
  10. ^ Shyamala, Gopalan (1964). The isolation and purification of a trypsin inhibitor from whole-wheat flour. UC Berkeley. Note: last name and first name are listed swapped.
  11. ^ "Dr. G. Shyamala". crea.berkeley.edu. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  12. ^ Carson, Susan (June 21, 1985). "Men still dominate the scientific field". The Gazette. Montreal. p. 27. Retrieved January 23, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  13. ^ a b c Bengali, Shashank; Mason, Melanie (October 25, 2019), The progressive Indian grandfather who inspired Kamala Harris, Los Angeles Times, retrieved April 24, 2020 Quote: "She joined the black civil rights movement, where she met a brilliant Jamaican economics student named Donald Harris. When she and Harris married in 1963 — in what in India is still described as a “love marriage” — it marked an even greater challenge to convention, especially because she didn’t introduce him to her parents beforehand. Donald Harris’ race wasn’t an issue for Shyamala’s parents, Balachandran said, but “the fact that she didn’t marry in India might have upset them, and the fact that it was someone they didn’t meet.”
  14. ^ Bengali, Shashank; Mason, Melanie (October 25, 2019), The progressive Indian grandfather who inspired Kamala Harris, Los Angeles Times, retrieved April 24, 2020 Quote: "A few years later, Shyamala and Donald brought their daughters to Zambia. Kamala would have been 4 or 5 years old; Maya, two years younger, was still sleeping in a crib."
  15. ^ Bengali, Shashank; Mason, Melanie (October 25, 2019), The progressive Indian grandfather who inspired Kamala Harris, Los Angeles Times, retrieved April 24, 2020 Quote: "After Shyamala divorced Donald in the early 1970s, she brought her daughters back to India often, usually to Chennai, where her parents settled after Gopalan retired. As the eldest grandchild, Kamala sometimes tagged along on Gopalan’s walks with his retiree buddies, soaking up their debates about building democracy and fighting corruption in India."
  16. ^ Finnegan, Michael (September 30, 2015). "How race helped shape the politics of Senate candidate Kamala Harris". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 1, 2018. Quote: "Steeped in Indian culture, Harris and her sister, Maya, now a civil rights lawyer and senior policy advisor to Hillary Rodham Clinton, visited family in Madras on occasion."
  17. ^ Dolan, Casey (February 10, 2019). "How Kamala Harris' immigrant parents shaped her life — and her political outlook". The Mercury News. Retrieved August 14, 2020. Kamala also visited far-flung family in India and Jamaica as she grew up, getting her first taste of the broader world.
  18. ^ "Donald Harris, Kamala Harris's Dad, Is a Renowned Stanford Professor". www.yahoo.com.
  19. ^ Gettleman, Jeffrey; Raj, Suhasini (August 16, 2020), How Kamala Harris’s Family in India Helped Shape Her Values, New York Times, retrieved August 17, 2020 Quote: "Ms. Harris has not been back to India since her mother died 11 years ago. It had been her mother’s dying wish to return. In the end, Ms. Harris returned with her ashes. It was obvious where they would go. One sunny morning, Ms. Harris and her uncle walked down to the beach in Besant Nagar where she used to stroll with her grandfather all those years ago, and scattered the ashes on the waves."

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