Ruth Stephens Gani 1927-1997

Written by J.M. Gani.

Ruth Gani (nee Stephens) was born in York, England on 22 February 1927, the only child of Henry and Maggie (Harry and Mimi) Stephens.   After attending the Altrincham County High School for Girls, she passed her School Certificate in 1943.  She began her working career as a Laboratory Assistant at the Imperial Chemical (Pharmaceuticals) Veterinary Research Laboratories in Wilmslow, while continuing her studies at the Salford Technical College Evening School, where she obtained her Higher School Certificate in 1946.

At this stage, she faced a difficult choice between two scholarships, one at the Royal Academy of Music in London to study piano, and the other at the University of Liverpool to study Botany.  She chose the latter and graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Hons) degree in Botany in 1949. She continued to play the piano throughout her life, and was particularly fond of the Mozart sonatas.

She was now appointed a Research Assistant in the Bracken Research Unit of the West of Scotland Agricultural College, Glasgow (1949-52), and was also a part time Demonstrator in Botany at the University of Glasgow.  In 1953, she was promoted to Assistant Lecturer, and attended a course in Plant Cytogenetics at the John Innes Horticultural Institute, Hertford, in 1954.

At the end of that year, she emigrated to Australia to become Research Assistant to Sir Otto Frankel  in the Cytogenetics Section of the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry, where she helped to investigate the genetics of wheat.  Early in 1955, she met Joseph Gani, a Commonwealth Postgraduate Scholar in Statistics at the Australian National University (ANU).They were married on 3 September 1955, and had four children: Jonathan in Perth, W.A. in1957, Miriam in New York in 1959, Matthew in Canberra in 1962, and Sarah in East Lansing, Michigan in 1964.

After the award of his PhD in 1955, Joseph took up various positions in Perth, New York, Canberra (ANU), Michigan, Sheffield, Canberra (CSIRO), Kentucky and California, finally retiring in Canberra in 1994. Ruth always joined him with the children, and managed to make a comfortable home for the family in each new environment. 

While in Perth, Ruth worked as a part time Demonstrator in the Botany Department of the University of WA in 1957-58 and 1960, and was also a Lecturer for an evening course on Genetics at the WEA.  In New York in 1959, she took a course in Developmental Genetics at Columbia University.

On the family's return to Canberra in the early 1960s, she worked as a part time Research Assistant in the Genetics Section of the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry.  In 1965, when the family moved to Sheffield, England, Ruth worked part time in the Centre for Human Genetics of the United Sheffield Hospitals from 1969 to 1974.

On returning to Australia with the family, she worked in 1977 as an Honorary Research Associate in the ANU Department of Population Biology, Research School of Biological Sciences. Between 1978 and 1981, she was the Officer in Charge of the Cytogenetics Section in the Cytology Department of the Woden Valley Hospital (now the Canberra Hospital).

Later. in 1988, she established the Cytogenetics Section of the Haematology Department at this Hospital. While in Lexington, Kentucky in the early 1980s, she enrolled for a Master's degree in Cell Biology at the University of Kentucky, and was awarded her MSc in 1987. Her last job from1994 until 1996 was with the ANU's Human Genetics Department, in the John Curtin School of Medical Research under Professor Sue Serjeantson.

In 1992, Ruth was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a mastectomy.  She appeared to be in remission but by 1995, the cancer had spread and she underwent chemotherapy.  She faced the decline of her health with stoicism and was able to celebrate Christmas 1996 with her family.  In 1997, she was moved to the Hospice on the Acton Peninsula and died there on 28 January 1997.  Her ashes are buried at the Norwood Park Cemetery, Canberra.

Ruth managed to combine her personal life as a wife and mother with an intense dedication to Genetics.  She was a foundation member of the Human Genetics Society of Australasia, and a member of the American Society of Human Genetics.  She was the author of several papers including:

  • "The nucleoli of cultured human lymphocytes I.  Nucleolar morphology in relation to transformation and the DNA cycle".  Exp.Cell Res. 50 (1976) 249-258.
  • "Nucleoli of cultured human lymphocytes II.  Nucleolar fusion and its relation to acrocentric association".  Hum.Genet. 42 (1978) 271-282.
  • Her scientific achievements are commemorated by the Australian Academy of Science's annual Ruth Stephens Gani Medal for Human Genetics, first awarded in 2008.

Her scientific achievements are commemorated by the Australian Academy of Science's annual Ruth Stephens Gani Medal for Human Genetics, first awarded in 2008.

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