Pamela S. Talalay, a former professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who was also a medical editor at Williams & Wilkins, died Aug. 24 from cancer at her Roland Park Place home. She was 93.
“Pamela was the gentlest of people and a meticulous editor,” said Dr. Justin C. McArthur, a professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who is also director of the Hopkins’ Department of Neurology. “And we had lengthy discussions in the use of the Oxford comma.”
Dr. Jed W. Fahey, a nutritional biochemist, came to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1993 to work with Professor Talalay’s husband, Dr. Paul Talalay, a noted molecular pharmacologist who headed the team that isolated a chemical found in broccoli that helped boost its cancer-fighter abilities.
“Pamela was a scientist in her own right,” said Dr. Fahey, who retired from Hopkins in 2020. “My lab technicians that worked in Paul’s lab always looked forward to her coming over. She was a lovely, lovely person.”
The former Pamela Judith Samuels, daughter of Julius Samuels, a picture framer, and his wife, Josephine, was born and raised in Exeter, Devon, England, and the youngest of two daughters.
Growing up during World War II was particularly difficult. Professor Talalay once recalled hiding under the family’s dining room table during a 1942 German air raid as bombers attempted to destroy Exeter’s historic cathedral. An errant bomb destroyed the house next door killing its occupants.
While attending The Maynard School for Girls in Exeter, she discovered her love of science, which was encouraged by faculty members.
She was the first member of her family to attend college. Professor Talalay studied science at Cambridge University’s Girton College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in botany and her Ph.D. in biochemistry, while working in the laboratory of Dr. Ernest F. Gale, a noted microbiologist, who developed the microbial infallibility hypothesis.
While working in Dr. Gale’s laboratory in 1952, she met her future husband, Dr. Paul Talalay “over a laboratory bench,” said her son, Antony “Tony” Talalay, of Lutherville. “Their eyes locked, and two weeks later they decided that marriage was for them, and married in January of 1953.”
“They bonded over their interest in protective enzymes,” Mr. Talalay wrote in a biographical profile of his father at the time of his death in 2019.
The couple moved to Chicago in 1953 when her husband joined the faculty of the University of Chicago as an associate professor. In 1963, they came to Baltimore when he was appointed professor of pharmacology and chairman of the department of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The department later became the laboratory for molecular pharmacology.
While her husband was focused on his career at Hopkins, Professor Talalay began her career as a medical editor at Williams & Wilkins, now Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
After leaving the medical publisher in the late 1970s, she held various positions in the Johns Hopkins University’s Biology Department and the School of Medicine’s Neurology Department until being named professor emeritus in 2007.
“With her background in science and her editing skills, she brought accuracy and clarity to complex medical subjects and became a pioneer in the field of scientific editing,” according to a biographical profile submitted by her family.
“She taught a popular graduated student course in science writing. She helped faculty members transform complex medical subjects into clear, compelling papers. She spent endless hours adding her beautiful prose to Paul’s grants and manuscripts, and they co-authored a 2001 paper that explored the importance of science in the use of plants as medical agents,” according to the family’s biography. “She was also a contributing editor of ‘Cardiac Arrest: The Science of Resuscitation Medicine,’ considered the most definitive reference book on the subject.”
“She was an exquisite scientific editor, and there are plenty of good editors, but unless they know the content, they will certainly screw things up,” Dr. Fahey said. “She was very different when it came to what Paul and I were writing. She knew exactly what we were talking about, and when we were writing grants, and sometimes they became too wordy, Pam was great at taking out the garbage and streamlining it. She made what we wrote so much better.”
“Pamela through her grant writing was personally responsible for millions and millions of dollars of research funds,” Dr. McArthur said. ‘She knew how to polish them, so much so, that no one could turn them down and helped many people achieve career success.”
For years, she and her husband lived on Boxhill Lane in The Orchards neighborhood of North Baltimore, where they raised their four children.
Active in the city’s cultural life, Professor Talalay had been a member of the board of the Maryland Ballet Company and the Shriver Hall Concert series at the Johns Hopkins University. She was also a volunteer reader for the blind.
She had a small role in the 1990 John Waters’ movie “Cry-Baby,” of which her daughter, Rachel Talalay, of Vancouver, British Columbia, was a producer.
“She was always very supportive of my career as well as me and Rachel who was a producer on ‘Cry-Baby’ as well as ‘Hairspray,’” Mr. Waters said. “She was elegant, beautiful, smart, and eccentric in a way that was always elegant. She and Paul were quite the couple, and her family was quite important in my career.”
The Morning Sun
Despite living in her adopted country for nearly seven decades, Professor Talalay remained the quintessential Englishwoman who retained her native accent.
When she first visited Baltimore in 1963, she was taken to Fort McHenry for a tour. “For the English, Fort McHenry represents a defeat, but she managed to keep a stiff upper lip about it,” her son said, with a laugh.
“She would ask for a ‘spot of tea’,” her son said. “If something inexplicable was said, she’d say, ‘About that, nothing more should be said.’ She was elegant and charming and could often be heard quoting long passages from Shakespeare and marveling at the wonders of literature.”
An avid gardener, she enjoyed spending time with her husband at a second home they had built in Surry, Maine. She also was a gourmet cook and had “even learned how to make Maryland fried chicken,” her son said.
Professor Talalay was a longtime member, along with her husband, of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.
Private services were held at a family cemetery plot in New Haven, Connecticut.
In addition to her son and daughter, Professor Talalay is survived by two other daughters, Susan Talalay of McLean, Virginia, and Sarah Talalay of Tashkent, Uzbekistan; and four grandchildren.