Doris von Kessler
Doris von Kessler (Baltimore Sun)

Dorothea "Doris" von Kessler, a retired medical researcher, died of cancer Sunday at her Sparks-Glencoe home. She was 78.

Born Dorothea Edith Maria Poeschl in Vienna, Austria, she was the daughter of Rudolf Poeschl, a leather manufacturer, and Marion Poeschl, a homemaker.


She earned degrees in the study of English and Spanish at the University of Vienna and the University of Innsbruck. She also studied at Cambridge University in England. She spoke Spanish, French, Italian and English, as well as German. She also studied Latin.

She met her future husband, Dr. Kirby L. C. von Kessler, a surgeon, while he was stationed in Ansbach, Germany. They were married in 1962 in Vienna at the Hofburg Palace chapel. Their reception was held at the Hotel Sacher.

When Dr. von Kessler finished his military service, the couple moved to Boston. In 1966 they came to Baltimore. She lived on a 10-acre property, Afton Waters in Glencoe, where she had an extensive garden. She had a collection of perennials, including beds devoted to roses. She also volunteered at Cylburn Arboretum.

She returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in molecular biology from Goucher College in 1986. While a student, she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She became a medical researcher and worked with Dr. Philip Beachy, a biochemist, who was then at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She retired in 2006.

She was published in scientific periodicals, including Nature and Cell. She studied a gene called the "hedgehog," found in the common fruit fly. She also worked in cancer research.

She was an accomplished horsewoman and rode throughout Baltimore County for recreation. She also skied, played tennis and was a contract bridge player.

"I admired her for her commitment," said her sister, Dr. Elizabeth Poeschl, who lives in Vienna. "Whatever she did, it was 150 percent. She was unselfish and never complained."

She was also a volunteer at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park in Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands, where she also had a house.

A memorial Mass will be offered at 5 p.m. Friday at the chapel at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, 740 N. Calvert St., where she was a member.

In addition to her sister, survivors include two sons, Kirby R.B. von Kessler of Rodgers Forge and Wilson C. von Kessler of Lookout Mountain, Ga.; two daughters, Caroline von Kessler Hughes of Annapolis and Alexandra von Kessler McMahon of Towson; a brother, Dr. Rudolf Poeschl of Vienna; and seven grandchildren. Her marriage ended in divorce.