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Janice Robinson Stevens ’44

November 27, 2019, at her home near Butteville, Oregon, of natural causes.

Born in Portland, Jan grew up in Portland’s Irvington neighborhood, attended Grant High School, and spent her freshman year at Willamette University. She transferred to Reed, following in the footsteps of her mother, Edna Shainwald ’18, and as a lifelong freethinker and iconoclast, Reed was the better fit. Jan wrote her thesis, “A Critical and Historical Analysis of Biological Thought,” with Professors Ralph W. Macy [biology 1942–55] and Charles A. Reed [biology 1943–46] advising.

During orientation, she met her future husband, Carl M. Stevens ’42, and they married after he returned from service as a naval officer in the Pacific during WWII. They moved to Boston, where Jan graduated from medical school at Boston University; she then completed residency training in neurology and neuropathology at Yale. She gave birth to two children, Catherine (Cassie) and Carl D. Carl M. completed a PhD in economics at Harvard, then a postdoc at Yale. The family returned to Portland, which would serve as their home base for the remainder of their peripatetic lives. Carl joined the Reed College faculty as professor of economics from 1955 until his retirement in 1990. Jan was recruited to the faculty of the newly formed neurology division at the University of Oregon Medical School, where she directed the epilepsy clinic and the electroencephalography laboratory, treating patients with epilepsy from all parts of Oregon.

Jan’s passions lay in clinical neuroscience, direct hands-on health, and education philanthropy in India and sub-Saharan Africa. In the clinic and lab, she devoted the first decades of her career to studying epilepsy and became interested in the interface between certain types of seizures and psychosis. After a sabbatical year in Geneva, Switzerland, she pivoted to neural causes of schizophrenia as her principal research focus. She passed the psychiatry board examination, earning the unusual distinction of full board certification in both disciplines, thereafter holding dual academic appointments as professor of neurology and psychiatry. 

Ultimately, Jan served as senior scientist and staff physician at the National Institute of Mental Health clinical research division at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington D.C., a post she held for 11 years. Her many professional society appointments included being president of the American Electroencephalographic Society and a board member of the International Brain Research Organization. She published more than 140 papers in professional journals and enjoyed a global reputation as a researcher and visiting lecturer. In 1997, she received the Foster-Scholz Distinguished Service Award.

Her academic career well established, Jan began devoting more attention to hands-on philanthropic work in the developing world. For many years, she and Carl commuted twice yearly to India, where they established family planning clinics in Tamil Nadu and Bihar States, funded in part by the Buffett Foundation. Jan next extended her efforts to Africa, where she established the Zambia Open Community Schools for girls too poor to afford the uniforms needed to attend government schools. The schools eventually became coeducational, and solicited financial support in hopes of expanding the open education model to other areas in the developing world.  

While at Reed, Jan became an avid skier and mountaineer, spending many days on Mt. Hood and nights in the Reed cabin in Government Camp. Her early love for mountains evolved into a lifelong passion for high and remote places. She tirelessly explored the world, mostly alone, on foot.  She reached an Everest base camp, forbidden areas of South Asia such as Kullu in India and Mustang in Nepal, and the upper reaches of the Nile, and served as the staff psychiatrist on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. These travels are captured in her memoir GO!, still available on Amazon.  

Often the first or only woman to undertake her professional, philanthropic, or trekking exploits, Jan simply mooted gender bias by consistently outperforming male colleagues in academic productivity and extramural funding. More fundamentally, she simply and genuinely recognized no differences in human potential, capabilities, rights, or freedoms among people of different genders, religions, or ethnic backgrounds. Perhaps at Reed, she seized freedom for herself, and devoted her life to sharing and spreading it as far and wide as her sturdy legs would carry her. In addition to an impressive body of neuroscience research, Jan’s lifelong devotion to boldly traveling the world, promoting freedom for all, and rendering service to those in need will live on in her family and in the many students, colleagues, and fellow travelers she encountered in a life astonishing in so many ways. 

Predeceased by her husband and her daughter, Catherine Stevens-Simon ’74, Jan is survived by sister Dorothy R. Freedman ’49; former sister-in-law Esther Robinson Wender ’59; sister-in-law Lilien Robinson; her son, Carl D. Stevens, and his wife, Stephanie; son-in-law Jacob Simon; five grandsons, Steven, Aaron, and Joshua D. Simon ’05, and Daniel and Eric Stevens; and six great grandchildren.


Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2020

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