Lois Roeder, leader in SIDS research, dies

Lois M. Roeder, a leader in SIDS research in Baltimore, died Dec. 23 at the University of Maryland Medical Center due to complications from a fall. She was 85.

The oldest of seven children, Dr. Roeder was born on Feb. 13, 1932, to George and Florence Hobbs Roeder. She grew up on Melvin Avenue in Catonsville and attended St. Mark Catholic School, the Institute of Notre Dame and the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, where she received a degree in chemistry.

Upon graduation, she worked as a chemist for the National Institutes of Health in aging research. She authored her first paper in the Journal of Gerontology, of which she would later become an assistant to the associate editor.

In 1972, she received a doctorate of science in biochemistry from the Johns Hopkins University and joined the faculty in the university’s biochemistry department shortly afterward.

She later became a member of the pediatric research department at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where she was awarded her first research grant. She went on to win several NIH grants throughout her career.

Dr. Roeder served as acting director of research at the university and became a faculty adviser to students at the Baltimore campus.

Suzanne Ullsperger, 62, a friend and colleague who worked with Dr. Roeder in pediatric research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, remembers her mentoring medical students.

“She was just a very kind person,” Ms. Ullsperger, a Timonium resident, said.

Dr. Roeder created the university’s first coursework in nutrition in the late 1970s, became the course director of clinical nutrition and served as the chair of the school’s committee on human nutrition.

In the early 1980s, Dr. Roeder was named director of professional training and education at the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Institute, and served as course director for the SIDS and apnea program at the University of Maryland medical school. She coordinated the International Research Conference on SIDS in Baltimore in 1982, which involved more than 300 participants from 13 countries, and published a book about the conference in 1983 with J. Tyson Tildon and Alfred Steinschneider.

Ronald Zielke, a Rodgers Forge resident, worked with Dr. Roeder at the medical school and said she was as devoted to families affected by SIDS as she was to her research.

“She was very active there in talking with the families, supporting them in their time of need and being supportive of their effort to further research,” Mr. Zielke, 75, said. “She was very enthusiastic about her work and very dedicated.”

In the 1990s, Dr. Roeder became editor-in-chief of the Journal of SIDS and Infant Mortality. She also held roles as the chair of the public policy commission for the American Society of Nephology, and as an associate professor of pediatrics and the University of Maryland medical school before retiring in 1995.

Outside her work, Dr. Roeder was a master gardener who enjoyed traveling, painting, puzzles and coaching basketball at St. Mark’s, friends and family recalled.

“Family was like everything to us, we always did big family celebrations, so my aunt was always just in the thick of it all,” said her niece, Laurie Semon, of Rodgers Forge. “She always took an interest in everyone and loved to entertain.”

Anna Mae Becker, 86, was friends with Roeder from the time they competed on the basketball court in seventh grade. They attended high school together and took the same streetcar each day.

“She was always very upbeat and adventuresome, and kind to her friends,” Ms. Becker said.

Ullsperger was friends with Roeder and her two younger siblings, who were blind. She remembers Roeder guiding her brother and sister and describing scenery to them on trips to Calvert Cliffs State Park.

Semon said Roeder’s humility was more prominent than her professional accomplishments.

“I sort of knew she was a big deal but it was never really made super obvious. ... She was just super humble,” Semon, 49, said. “It was a pride for her that she did accomplish these things, but … that didn’t define her.”

“She was always willing to go and be a part of things and try and just live life to the fullest,” Semon said.

Roeder suffered from dementia for the last seven years of her life, Semon said.

She is survived by two sisters, Sister Mary Gabriel (Florence Roeder) of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and Carolyn Roeder, and a large extended family. Roeder donated her body to science and a memorial mass will be scheduled at a later date.

smeehan@baltsun.com

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