Thursday, February 27, 2003

Obituary: Dr. Erin Talbot McNeill

Crafted reproductive rights policy to help women

By Rebecca Goodman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dr. McNeill

The breastfeeding room in the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington stands as Erin Talbot McNeill's legacy.

It was Dr. McNeill, as an employee of the Office of Population and Reproductive Health of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), who fought for a place to breastfeed her first daughter, Zoe.

The Hyde Park native developed programming, policy and research for women's reproductive health rights around the world. She believed that USAID's global breastfeeding policy should begin at home.

Dr. McNeill, 36, died Jan. 31 of a brain tumor at her home in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The room in Washington will be named the "Erin Talbot McNeill Room."

Her curriculum vitae stated that her career goal was to "improve, in some measure, the reproductive health and rights of women."

"In her too short life, she certainly accomplished that and, more, brought honor to herself" and USAID, said Jeff Speiler, chief of the Research, Technology and Utilization Division, USAID.

"Erin is the only student we have ever had who managed to squeeze four years of honors classes into three academic years," said Susan Marrs of Hyde Park, former principal of the upper school at Seven Hills. "When she announced to her teachers that she wanted to graduate early, they smiled and explained the reasons it couldn't be done.

"Not only did Erin accomplish her goals, she lit up every class she took," Marrs said.

Dr. McNeill spent her fourth year of high school at St. Leonard's School in St. Andrews, Scotland. She graduated with honors from Oxford University in England and earned a Ph.D. in reproductive endocrinology from the University of Edinburgh.

That's where she met her husband, Carn Gibson, when she appeared at his front door to inquire about a room for rent. Dr. McNeill moved into his house, but the couple soon "moved into each other's hearts," said her sister, Sarah McNeill Tlozek of Alice Springs, Australia.

They married on the Isle of Barra in Scotland in 1993.

Two months after the wedding, the couple moved to the United States so Dr. McNeill could work in the research division of USAID's Office of Population and Reproductive Health.

Two years after Zoe's birth in 1995, Dr. McNeill became a senior reproductive health adviser for Family Health International. She established a European presence for the organization, traveling to Kenya, Thailand, Ghana, French Guyana and Nigeria to work with local governments in reducing mother/infant mortality rates, to teach family planning, and to advocate for women's health and reproductive rights.

Her career was ended when she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in November 2001.

"Her passion for doing the right thing and for human rights was only surpassed by her passion for her family," said her mother, Leslie McNeill of Hyde Park.

Dr. McNeill was a fabulous cook who loved to share her hospitality. She enjoyed a good cigar after a particularly fine meal and was always up for a lively discussion of world events, said her father, Redmond McNeill. In addition to her husband, daughter, parents and sister, survivors include another daughter, Ninian; another sister, Saunders McNeill of Palmer, Alaska; and a brother, Bennett McNeill of Cincinnati.

A memorial service is 2 p.m. today at Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 2944 Erie Ave., Hyde Park. Dr. McNeill's remains have been cremated and will be sprinkled on the Isle of Barra.

Memorials: The Women's Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, 200 W. Fourth St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; Interfaith Hospitality Network, c/o the Church of the Redeemer, 2944 Erie Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45208; or the Seven Hills School, Alumni Scholarship Fund, 5400 Red Bank Road, Cincinnati, OH 45227.


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