Shyamala Gopalan was a biomedical scientist. She is the mother of Kamala Harris, the 49th vice president of the United States, and lawyer, public policy advocate, television commentator and political analyst Maya Harris.
Gopalan contributed in the advancement of breast biology and oncology through her work in isolating and characterizing the progesterone receptor gene. Here are 13 more things about her:
- She was born in Madras, Tamil Nadu, India to P.V. Gopalan and Rajam Gopalan. She was the eldest of four children. P.V. was a Brahmin, part of a privileged elite in the ancient caste hierarchy of Hinduism.
- As a teenager, she won a national competition in South Indian classical music.
- She earned her bachelor’s degree in home science from Lady Irwin College in New Delhi, India.
- As a breast cancer researcher, she worked at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of Wisconsin.
- She worked at Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research and McGill University Faculty of Medicine for 16 years.
- She served as a peer reviewer for the National Institutes of Health.
- She was a site visit team member for the Federal Advisory Committee. ‘
- She served on the President’s Special Commission on Breast Cancer.
- She worked in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
- She applied to a masters program in nutrition and endocrinology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1958 and was accepted. In 1962, she met Jamaican student Donald J. Harris at a meeting of the Afro American Association in the university. In 1964, she graduated with a PhD in nutrition and endocrinology. She conducted research in the university’s Department of Zoology and Cancer Research Lab.
- She and Harris got married in 1963 without introducing him to her parents beforehand or having the ceremony in her hometown in India as part of the tradition in her home country. They divorced in 1971.
- She gave birth to Kamala on October 20, 1964 and Maya on January 30, 1967.
- She died in Oakland, California, USA on February 11, 2009. She was 82.