Last updated 10/11/2021
Nancy E. Warner M.D., Distinguished Pathologist and Pioneer for Women in Medicine and Academia Dies at 97
Dr. Nancy E. Warner, physician, pathologist, teacher, and mentor died peacefully in the late afternoon of August 17, 2020, at the age of 97. Born in 1923 in Dixon, Illinois, Dr. Warner’s interest in medicine was first sparked when she received a microscope as a gift from her parents as a young girl, which she used to examine grains of salt and soil, and feathers and leaves that she collected around her home. She was one of only four women admitted to the University of Chicago School of Medicine in 1944, earning her M.D. in 1949. Her inspiration to focus on pathology as her chosen field of expertise came from two successful women pathologists at the University of Chicago, who became lifelong friends. Subsequently, she held positions in pathology at the University of Chicago and associated hospitals, and at Cedars Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles, before accepting a faculty position at the School of Medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1965. Two years later, she returned once again to Los Angeles as a faculty recruit to the University of Southern California School of Medicine, now the Keck School of Medicine, where she remained for the duration of her long career.
At USC, Dr. Warner distinguished herself as a surgical pathologist specializing in endocrine pathology, publishing her work in scientific journals and in a textbook that received wide acclaim as state of the art for many years. She was a gifted and celebrated teacher of medical students, residents, and fellows and received numerous awards for teaching at local and national levels. Of special note, she developed a large collection of high-quality photographic images of gross and microscopic surgical pathology and autopsy specimens from all major organs, prepared from work spanning more than three decades. She used these images to teach anatomic pathology and diagnostic principles and to assist colleagues around the world with the diagnosis of rare conditions, especially involving tumors. This collection was donated to the USC Norris Medical Library, where the slides were digitized and made available for use by the USC community.
In 1972, Dr Warner was appointed Chair of the Department of Pathology of the USC School of Medicine. This was a groundbreaking appointment for women, as she was not only the first woman chair at the USC School of Medicine, but was also the first woman chair of a pathology department in a co-educational institution in the United States. She was a passionate supporter of women medical students, fellows, and faculty, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Medical Faculty Women’s Association (MFWA) and the associated MFWA Research Fund, which was used to provide small grants for women initiating research projects or in need of bridging funding gaps. The MFWA provided essential support for faculty development and advancement for women in the Schools of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Occupational Therapy, and Pharmacy over three decades after its establishment in 1981. Dr. Warner was also active in national organizations developed to support women in academia and was an avid advocate for gender equity in academia at all levels. She secured her support of women by donations to the MFWA Research Fund, and more recently, made a gift to the University of Chicago to create three mechanisms to support research in gender and sexuality studies, professional development, and research scholarships for women faculty in the humanities. She has also donated a large volume of papers, lecture notes, photos, and personal items to the University of Chicago Library that are open for research purposes.
During her tenure as Chair of the Department of Pathology, Dr. Warner was named the Hastings Professor of Pathology. She served as Chair of the Department of Pathology for eleven years, stepping down to continue practicing surgical pathology at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. She strongly believed that chair positions should be held no longer than ten years to avoid entrenchment of leadership styles and to allow new ideas and directions to emerge. In 1993, Dr. Warner officially retired but remained active in the USC community to teach, serve as a board member for the MFWA Research Fund, the Edmondson Faculty Center, and the Retired Faculty Association. She received the USC Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996, and the USC Emeriti Center’s Inaugural Paul E. Hadley Faculty Award for Service to USC in 2009. As an honored USC faculty, Dr. Warner’s 2002 USC Living History Project interview can be viewed below.
Dr. Warner’s personal life was just as rich as her professional life. She was passionate about photography and used her photographic skills to document her extensive worldwide travels. Her favorite trips were to Antarctica, the Amazon, and Siberia, though she could spin tales about her visits on each and every continent. In her later years, she became interested in genealogy, tracing her family tree for hundreds of years, and took up advocacy for environmental causes. At home in Pasadena, she documented the many species of birds that visited her gardens and delighted in visits from wildlife as diverse as bobcats, lizards, coyotes, raccoons, and more.
Dr. Warner was preceded in death by her wife and partner of 60 years, Christine Reynolds. Her survivors include her nephew, Dr. Peter Nichols, her niece, Nancy, great-nephews, and great-great-nephew and nieces. She also leaves behind a large community of dear friends and colleagues. Her resilience, her curiosity, and her presence will be greatly missed.