In Memoriam: R. Ellen Magenis, M.D. (1925-2014)

February 10, 2014

Ellen Magenis, M.D.The OHSU School of Medicine announces with great sadness that R. Ellen Magenis, M.D., R '68, 71, professor emerita of molecular and medical genetics and pediatrics, died Feb. 4 after a long illness.

Dr. Magenis was the long-time director of the OHSU Clinical Cytogenetics Laboratory, which specializes in state-of-the-art chromosome analysis.In addition to her clinical work, Dr. Magenis made major research contributions to the field of genetics. In the 1980s, she identified and described what would become known as Smith-Magenis syndrome, along with Ann C. M. Smith, an NIH genetic counselor. 

In 2012, the Department of Molecular & Medical Genetics honored Dr. Magenis's professional accomplishments in clinical cytogenetics and medical genetics with a celebration capped by the unveiling of a portrait of Dr. Magenis. The portrait now hangs in Richard Jones Hall.

Members of the OHSU community are invited to a public celebration of life in honor of Dr. Magenis: Saturday, March 1 at 1:30 p.m. in the OHSU Auditorium/Old Library Building; light refreshments to follow.

The following is an excerpt of Dr. Magenis's obituary as published by The Oregonian. Friends and colleagues may also sign the online guestbook.

Ruth Ellen (Heath) Magenis, M.D., a pioneer in the field of human genetics, died Feb. 4, 2014, at home with her family in Portland after a long illness. She was 88 years old. She was born in Gary, Ind., on Sept. 24, 1925, to Charles Heath and Violet Hawkins, who predeceased her. Dr. Magenis received her B.A. in zoology from Indiana University in 1946 and her M.D. from Indiana University Medical School in 1952. She completed her pediatric residency (1968) and medical genetics fellowship (1971) at the University of Oregon Medical School (now OHSU). She was married to Dr. Thomas Magenis. They moved from Indiana to Portland, where they had seven children and were later divorced.

She became the director of the Oregon Health & Science University Cytogenetics Laboratory in 1977 and grew it into an entity recognized internationally for its quality. She quickly rose to full professor of molecular and medical genetics in 1980. She also directed her own research laboratory and the genetics clinic for the majority of her 40 years at OHSU. She was boarded in pediatrics by the American Board of Pediatrics and clinical cytogenetics and clinical genetics by the American Board of Medical Genetics. A founding fellow of the American College of Medical Genetics, she served on many editorial boards and published over 150 manuscripts, 120 abstracts and 20 book chapters. She became a Professor Emeritus in 2011.

Her devotion as an advocate for patients and their families was evident locally and nationally by her efforts on the board of PRISMS (National Smith-Magenis Syndrome Association - the syndrome named for her), the Angelman Syndrome Association, the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association, the Multnomah County Prader-Willi Project Advisory Group and the Prader-Willi Parent Support Group of Oregon. She was recognized for her significant, original contributions to health-related research in Oregon with the 1993 Medical Research Foundation Discovery Award. Her national contributions to the field of cytogenetics were honored with the 2004 American Cytogenetics Conference Distinguished Cytogeneticist Award. From her early days of gene mapping to clinical diagnosis to microdeletion syndrome delineation, Dr. Magenis took advantage of each technological breakthrough, combined with her clinical acumen, to stay on the cutting edge of cytogenetic research and clinical testing. Her style of laboratory management was egalitarian and her staff always rose to the occasion, and did their best for her and the patients she helped.