A memorial fund was established in 2007, following the untimely death of Gay Becker PhD, Professor of Medical Anthropology at UCSF, to honor Gay’s commitment to students. Gay was an unswerving champion of the disadvantaged, the stigmatized, the chronically ill and those in emotional pain. She was one of the first anthropologists to engage seriously illness and disability as cultural phenomena that could be investigated both through narrative research and through ethnographic work in communities and medical settings. She was committed to merging research with social justice. Her research centered on the multiple and often resilient ways in which individuals live with health conditions that create unforeseen paths in the course of their lives. The richness of people’s lives mattered most to her.
Gay’s engagement with social issues was channeled into two broad areas of research. The first, encompassing aging, ethnicity, chronic illness and, most recently, structural inequality and the uninsured, stressed the relationships among illness, ethnicity, poverty and life course disruption, and she wrote widely on the chronic illness experience among ethnic minorities, the effects of immigration and globalization on the elderly, displacement, memory, trauma and health status among refugees, the health of the uninsured, and social factors that prevent the creation of universal health insurance. Gay earned the highly prestigious Merit Award from the National Institute on Aging for her work on ethnicity and aging in a 10-year study, “Cultural Responses to Illness in the Minority Aged.” Her second area of research (in collaboration with Robert Nachtigall, MD) explored the experiences of infertility, donor insemination, and the marketing and consuming of the new reproductive technologies. Aware of the profound feelings of pain and grief among many childless couples, she wrote Healing the Infertile Family (1990, new edition 1997), making her findings available to a wide public.
In Gay’s memory, contributions may be made to the Gay Becker Memorial Fund in Medical Anthropology, UCSF. Please make checks payable to the UC Regents – Gay Becker Memorial Fund and send to: Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine, c/o Gay Becker Memorial Fund in Medical Anthropology, University of California San Francisco, 3333 California Street, Suite 485, San Francisco, CA 94118. These funds will be used to support the professional development of students in our graduate programs.