Sarah D. ‘Sally’ Isaacs, who had been project coordinator of a long-term prostate gene study at Johns Hopkins, dies

Sarah D. "Sally" Isaacs attended the Johns Hopkins University in 1970, the first year the university accepted women.

Sarah D. “Sally” Isaacs, who had been project coordinator at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s prostate gene study, died Sept. 23 of ovarian cancer at her Phoenix home in northern Baltimore County. She was 72.

“For more than 20 years, Sally was the coordinator of the Johns Hopkins Brady Urological Institute’s study of hereditary prostate cancer,” said Dr. Patrick C. Walsh, emeritus professor of oncology and urology at the Johns Hopkins University, who worked closely with Mrs. Isaacs.


“She was the heart and soul that made it so successful, providing compassion as she spoke to thousands of surviving family members about the painful deaths many loved ones experienced,” Dr. Walsh said. “She was a saint.”

The former Sarah Dixon was the daughter of Dr. William T. Dixon Jr., a psychiatrist and the founder of the alcoholism program at the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson, and Patricia Mary Coles Dixon, a Cockeysville High School English teacher and St. Ignatius Loyola Academy tutor. Mrs. Isaacs was born in Baltimore and raised in Phoenix, Baltimore County.


She was a graduate of the Calvert School and Bryn Mawr School in 1968. She began her college studies at American University in Washington and then transferred to the Johns Hopkins University in 1970, the first year the university accepted women, and broke the 94-year men-only tradition.

Mrs. Isaacs earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Hopkins. During the 1970s and 1980s, she worked on research projects involving the genetic contributions to learning disabilities, as well as early outcomes of bone marrow transplant procedures at Hopkins and at Emory University in Atlanta.

She met her future husband, Dr. John T. Isaacs, when they were children; their families were neighbors. They began dating during high school and married in 1971. The couple moved to the same Phoenix property where she had grown up and raised their three children.

After her father’s death from metastatic prostate cancer in 1991, Mrs. Isaacs served as project coordinator at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for a study identifying genes associated with the inheritance of prostate cancer. Her work “made a significant contribution to this scientific field,” according to a biographical profile submitted by her family.

She was the author of 79 peer-reviewed articles, her first in JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

“Sally Isaacs, a behavioral scientist who had spent years studying hereditary links to learning disabilities, was chosen to command a logistical enterprise that could challenge the Census Bureau,” according to a 1996 Baltimore Sun article, when she joined the prostate gene study.

Her husband was a Johns Hopkins tumor biologist who researched ways to control the growth of prostate cancers, and his brother, William Isaacs, was a molecular biologist looking at the genetic basis.

“The brothers are constantly talking this stuff,” Mrs. Isaacs told The Sun. “That’s all I hear.”


In her role as coordinator, Mrs. Isaacs telephoned patients whose loved ones had died from prostate cancer. She had them fill out questionnaires with details about their health, occupations and family histories. She had them go to their physicians in order to get blood samples, which were sent to Hopkins.

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“Sally called up people and talked about their husbands, sons, brothers, fathers and grandfathers to recall their illness,” Dr. Walsh said. “You couldn’t be a court reporter. She took the time to get to know them and gain their confidence and get them to talk about their deceased loved ones, and she did it from the heart. I think it helped them heal.”

Mrs. Isaacs retired in 2014.

She volunteered in the community, particularly with causes related to early education and children’s issues. She was a member of the International Dyslexia Association and volunteered at St. Vincent’s Villa in Timonium.

She enjoyed hosting dinners and parties for family and friends and was a competitive tennis player. She also was a world traveler, a passion she shared with her husband and children.

An avid gardener, Mrs. Isaacs was studying to receive her master gardener’s certificate at her death.


She was a communicant of the Catholic Community of St. Francis Xavier, 13717 Cuba Road, in Hunt Valley, where a Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Oct. 15.

In addition to her husband of 51 years, she is survived by a son, William J. Isaacs of Phoenix; two daughters, Dr. Katelin P. Isaacs of Washington and Sarah I. Shelfer of Bowie; a brother, William T. Dixon of Seattle; three sisters, Natalie D. McCeney of Timonium, Frances D. Roomets of Northeast Baltimore and Patricia D. Siegel of Seattle; and six grandchildren.