Mary Denice O'Neill of the Bronx, New York, is mourned not only by her family and friends here, but also in a place halfway across the world. This 22-year-old pre-medical student spent two and a half months in Ughelli, Nigeria, prior to her death, working in a local hospital and living with a Nigerian family. A student of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, Denice, who wanted to be a pediatrician, was studying how Nigerian mothers raise their children. She interviewed 100 mothers and several doctors for the project. She had previously spent a semester in London, England, working at the Children's Hospital there.
This cheerful, bubbly, active young woman embraced and integrated a wide range of interests, which converged into a central theme: children's and women's health issues and care in developed and developing countries. Medicine, anthropology, child psychology, feminist theory, racism and sexism, developing countries: she merged them all and directed her copious energies toward working on public health issues, one of the crying political issues of today's world. Most 22-year-old women do not know that health care is a political issue; Denice was working, writing, preparing herself to grapple with the problem.
Her college advisor writes, "I also knew she was everywhere all the time: in the science lab, attending a reproductive rights conference, working at the Women's Center, babysitting for faculty...always in the company of numerous pals. (She was) a bright, gregarious, energetic, wild and crazy eighteen-year-old, with a smile rather permanently fixed onto her face. Every semester I wondered if she would lose the trademark giggle which rounded out her wonderfully upbeat personality. Denice carried a full load of courses spanning pre-med science, biological and cultural anthropology, child development, and feminist studies. I was always pleased with the quality and quantity of her work. And there was the Women's Health Newsletter that she organized and produced, and there was the Anthropology Interest Group, which she helped pull together, and there was her semester abroad in London at the Westminster Children's Hospital. You probably cannot believe that all of this was accomplished in three years, but there is more. De traveled by train to Philadelphia to attend the American Anthropological Association meetings. She listened to papers on racism and ethnocentrism, on poverty and its effect on women's health, and on Native American Health.
Denice O'Neill would have left her mark on the health profession, one way or another, you can be sure, if she had lived. There was passion in her belief that one person could make a difference in the world."
Denice left her mother, Ann Gillis of the Bronx, New York, who died in the fall of 1990.
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