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06/15/2022 08:30 AM

Pat Brown: The Importance of Science and Volunteerism

It’s little wonder that Pat Brown looks at the world through the lens of science and scientific research since she loves to learn new things. She equally loves to volunteer to support the North Haven community. And she loves boxers, like her current four-legged companion, Cooper. Photo courtesy of Karen Smith

Behind Pat Brown’s pleasant personality and cheerful smile is the razor-sharp mind of a scientist and researcher. The Napa, Calif. native first came to Connecticut in 1988 with her then-husband, Thomas, when he was recruited to join the faculty at Yale University.

Pat’s first foray into higher education training began at San Jose State University, where she majored in psychology and business administration.

“I think having majored in psych was a turning point in my life,” recalls Pat. “I took an experimental psychology course on the scientific method that included how to come up with a hypothesis and how to collect unbiased samples of subjects whether human or animal. That experience, in terms of evaluating things via the scientific method, helped me in life and my profession.”

Thanks to that early science training, Pat found she could apply the focus and discipline of the scientific method throughout many of the activities of her life.

“As you know, science is a hot topic in this country,” she says and laments when reflecting on the general lack of science literacy in the U.S.

After completing her bachelor’s degree, she received a NASA Fellowship, and lived near Moffit Field in California “where there was a NASA life sciences installation,” Pat says.

“NASA funded my research, which focused on the etiology of stress ulceration. The reason I focused on the combination of stress with aspirin is that the one drug that astronauts could take into space was aspirin, and it was known that aspirin causes bleeding in the G.I. tract, so I looked at the combination of aspirin with stress because presumably in a spacecraft you’re under a lot of stress,” she says.

Part of her research into the effects of aspirin involved rats.

“My mother used to describe my research as ‘My daughter works with rats,’ which kind of turned people off,” Pat recalls with a laugh.

Humor aside, Pat’s work in stress ulceration research resulted in 10 publications and earned her two patents.

The most exciting moment Pat recalls from her time at NASA was when she got to participate in COSMOS 782, the first joint, unmanned U.S.-Russian mission in November of 1975.

“I was known as ‘the rat person with stomach ulcers’ because of my research and the rats were going into space and [were] assumed to be under stress,” she says. “I got to collect the stomachs of the rats when they came back to see if they had ulcerated.”

Pat found that the rat stomachs did not ulcerate due to the fact that the animals had been injected with tetracycline, an antibiotic, to trace bone growth in space since bone absorbs the antibiotic.

“As a consequence of the antibiotic, which killed all the flora in the stomachs of the rats, their stomachs did not ulcerate. But I got a publication out of it,” recalls Pat.

It was that kind of detailed research that Pat conducted that led to her next venture back in California at City of Hope Medical Center, a recognized cancer center in the U.S., where she worked as the administrator for the surgical division, which had seven departments.

“I had gone from a research environment with Ph.D.’s to a clinical environment with surgeons,” Pat says, adding, “I learned a lot about how to evaluate a situation from the chairman of surgery.”

While at City of Hope, she helped with fundraising for the medical center with past patients and had the pleasure of seeing the Queen of England when the Queen visited the U.S. and toured City of Hope.

Pat then found herself in Connecticut, where she was hired by Yale University to set up the Yale Institute of Biospheric Studies, a multidisciplinary research center, which included the Biology Department, the Yale Peabody Museum, and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

“One of the things I really like in life is to be the first to do something because you can make it your own,” Pat admits.

It was during her five years at the biospheric program that the Special Olympics World Games were held in New Haven, in 1995, and she co-chaired the first Global Treasures Auction held at Woolsey Hall to support fundraising efforts.

“The 135 countries that sent athletes to the games were asked to donate a specialty of their country,” which were then auctioned by Sotheby’s, Pat recalls.

“It was during this effort that I became interested in HIV/AIDS because one of the team members had AIDS,” says Pat. “Because of my friendship with him, I became involved with the AIDS Interfaith Network, which was one of three AIDS programs at the time in the New Haven community.”

Pat became so driven to help and learn more about what AIDS patients went through when it came to housing, being ostracized, and dying from the disease she returned to Los Angeles in 1998 after being recruited for the position of administrator of the UCLA AIDS Institute. Through this program, Pat says she got to meet many Hollywood celebrities who championed fundraisers to help AIDS victims, including Elizabeth Taylor and Sharon Stone.

“I loved the job, but I didn’t really like living in L.A.,” Pat says.

Three years later she returned to North Haven to assume the position of administrative director of the Department of Economics at Yale. The department is one of the largest social science departments at Yale.

As Pat’s professional career wound to a close, she turned her love of learning new things and helping others into volunteerism and civic engagement within the North Haven community. She joined the North Haven Democratic Town Committee in 2007. One of the events she organized was an Earth Day exhibit at North Haven High School on the impact of science on different factions of the world.

Pat was elected and served on the Board of Finance (BOF) from 2007 to the end of 2019.

“I had never thought a lot about municipal government before,” says Pat.

She quickly realized she needed to develop a clear understanding of how the educational system operated, the tools and systems needed by the police and fire departments, and the plight of senior citizens living on fixed incomes.

“I enjoyed my time on the BOF,” says Pat, adding, “because I love to learn new things.”

After her tenure on the BOF, she joined the board of the North Haven Education Foundation (NHEF) and was asked to serve in the role of treasurer. Recently, Pat was one of the NHEF members who assisted in the planning and organizing of a successful trivia night. She continues to serve as the treasurer of the NHEF.

And thanks to her love of plants, Pat also makes time to serve as a member of the gardening committee at her condo community.

In all, Pat Brown has led a rewarding and fruitful life, starting out with science education and culminating with lending her vast organizational experience and logical thinking to help the people of North Haven in numerous ways.

“I believe in community service, and I think everyone should have to do something,” concludes Pat. “I volunteered at the soup kitchen in New Haven one Christmas Eve with a friend. It made me realize how fortunate I was.”