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March 31, 2005

Obituary: Rebecca Frances “Penna” Drew Taylor

Former long-time associate dean of student affairs at Pitt’s School of Medicine Rebecca Frances Drew Taylor died of pneumonia March 22, 2005, at Canterbury Place in Lawrenceville. She was 87 and had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for several years.

Taylor, a Pittsburgh native who used the name Dr. Frances Drew for most of her professional life, came to Pitt in 1949 as a clinical instructor at the medical school.

In 1961 she was named clinical assistant professor of preventive medicine, followed by clinical associate professor (1969) and then professor of community medicine (1974). She also held a joint appointment beginning in 1973 as clinical associate professor of community medicine, Population Division, at the Graduate School of Public Health.

She was named associate dean in 1975, a position she held until retiring in 1992. In 1975, she also was named a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania by then-Gov. Milton Shapp, for her contributions to community medicine and service on the governor’s task force on hypertension.

Prior to coming to Pitt, she was an instructor at McGill University in Montreal, where she earned her medical degree in 1942 and did her residency training (1944-1948).

Most of her friends knew her as Penna, a nickname that stuck after she told a Montreal acquaintance that she came from Pennsylvania.

She also attended Vassar College in the 1930s before marrying Hans Selye, a physician she met in Europe, and moving to Montreal.

Following the birth of her eldest daughter Catherine and a divorce, she returned to Pittsburgh in 1949.

In 1950, she married attorney John Drew and the couple had two daughters. Following Drew’s death in 1982, she married Floyd Taylor, a Dayton, Ohio, resident who survives her.

In a 1976 interview with the University Times, Taylor reflected on the changing roles of women in the medical professions. She was one of 10 women in her medical class of 100 at McGill.

In the 1940s, “surgeons gave the best grade to girls who looked good in red sweaters,” and no girl got above a B on oral exams regardless of performance, she said. “We didn’t have to tell ourselves we were as good as a man. That was for the generation before us, but we did take this background clatter of prejudice for granted.”

She continued, “I’ve always been comfortable being a professional and being a woman. In fact, nursing my children was the most marvelous animal thing I have ever done. I am turned off by aggressiveness and don’t like table-thumpers of either sex. Bullying and bellowing are lessons we don’t need to learn from men,” she said in the University Times article, where she was pictured smoking her trademark pipe.

Among Taylor’s interests were music, cooking, gardening and gathering mushrooms during weekends on her Ligonier farm. She served on the boards of WQED, the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society, the Visiting Nurses Association of Allegheny County and Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, among many local organizations.

Her professional society membership included the Allegheny County Medical Society, the American Medical Society and the Association of Teachers of Preventive Medicine.

In addition to her husband and daughter Catherine Drew, of New York, Taylor is survived by daughters Diana Harbison, of Shadyside, and Johanna Drew Taylor, of Santa Fe, N.M.; stepdaughters Margaret Hong, of Dayton, and Marianne Taylor, of Milwaukee, and five grandchildren.

—Peter Hart

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