This announcement, this bit of sad news, will be brief; frankly,
it's news I never thought I'd be delivering:
Gretchen Worden director of the best museum in the world,
long-time fan and invaluable friend to the sideshow business,
great friend to me and many, many others passed away on Monday
August 2, 2004.
Much of the standard obit type stuff
you can read below. Generously supplied by artist James Mundie.
I'm the guy whom Gretchen once called
her best girlfriend (a joke I understood for the huge compliment
was) I'll just tell a quick story. In one of our many, many
discussions over way too many drinks, we drifted into religion.
She was a Swedenborgian and I'm an atheist, so, of course, the
discussion ended up about where one would expect. When I told her
of course, that in spite of her belief in things outside this
life. That I was going into the ground when my days was done and
that would be it. She looked at me and cut that huge grin of hers.
Well, she said, you won't really have anything to say about that.
So, deary, if you were right, I suppose I'll see you around;
regardless, I'll see you everywhere, every day on this planet, you
changed so much for the better.
It is with great sadness that I report the terrible news that
Gretchen Worden, director of The Mutter Museum of the College of
Physicians of Philadelphia, passed away on Monday, 2 August 2004.
For those of you who didn't know her, Gretchen Worden was a
kind-hearted and generous spirit with a wicked sense of humor. She
was always most gracious to me (and many others), generously
giving both her time and advice. I was honored when Gretchen
invited me to poke around in the back storage rooms of the Mutter
Museum, and ecstatic when she bestowed upon me the very great
honor of allowing me to borrow several valuable items from the
Mutter's collection for one of my exhibitions. She was keenly
aware and appreciative of artists like myself who found a strange
beauty in the Mutter's collection of unusual medical specimens,
and the access to these resources that she provided for us
non-medical folk was unprecedented.
She will be sorely missed.
The Mutter released the following obituary, which now appears on
their website:Gretchen Worden, who devoted her entire professional
career to revitalizing the Mutter Museum of the College of
Physicians of Philadelphia, died August 2nd after a brief illness.
Ms. Worden relied on an encyclopedic knowledge of medical history,
a tart sense of humor and a compelling television presence to
forge an international reputation as a museum educator and
spokeswoman for the Mutter. Her recent book, about the museum
became a best seller. She was a frequent guest on The Late Show
With David Letterman and appeared in numerous science
documentaries produced by the BBC. Ms. Worden, who was 57,
continued to work until a few days before her death.
Ms. Worden, the daughter of a Standard Oil geologist, was born in
Shanghai, China in 1947. She graduated from Temple University with
a degree in Anthropology in 1970. She joined the staff of the
College's Mutter Museum as a curatorial assistant in 1975. Ms.
Worden became the museum's curator in 1982 and its
director in 1988. As the leader of the museum, she presided over a
facility with unique historical and pathological collections that
was little known to the public. Knowing that its long-term future
depended on the museum's acquiring a higher public profile, Ms.
Worden worked tirelessly to promote it. Her efforts included
numerous appearances on television and radio, offering lectures
about the museum from Philadelphia to Paris and launching a
popular series of museum calendars. When Ms. Worden became curator
in 1982, the museum attracted several hundred visitors each year.
At the time of her death, museum visitation had grown to more than
60,000 tourists annually. Ms. Worden's ultimate goal was to have
the Mutter Museum accredited by the American Association of
Commenting on Ms. Worden's contributions to the College of
Physicians, College President Arthur Asbury, M.D. noted that "The
College of Physicians is deeply saddened by the loss of Gretchen
Worden. She embodied the Mutter Museum both locally and nationally
for three decades. She is irreplaceable". Recalling his own
experience working with Ms. Worden, the College's Chief Executive
Officer Mark S. Hochberg, M.D. said "Gretchen was an incandescent
personality. She represented a unique combination of curatorial
brilliance, superb communication skills and irresistible charm.
The College of Physicians family has lost a treasured colleague
Gretchen Worden was known for her wide ranging intellectual
interests. She was a past president of the Medical Museums
Association, Museum Council of Philadelphia and the Delaware
Valley and the Walt Whitman Association. She was a long serving
member of the Board of the Friends of Independence National
A memorial service to celebrate Gretchen's life will be held at
the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 19 South 22nd Street,
Philadelphia, on Sunday, September 12, 2004 at 2:00 p.m. In lieu
of flowers, please consider a contribution to the Mutter Museum in
Gretchen Worden's memory.
The obituary notice that appeared in the 4 August 2004 edition of
the Philadelphia Inquirer
NPR interviews with Gretchen Worden
of the Mutter Museum
Remembering Gretchen Worden
August 6, 2004 Interview
Gretchen Worden, Mutter
Museum Director, Dies Aug. 6, 2004 re-broadcast of the Nov. 5,
2002 interview. With content of Gretchen's Death.
Gretchen Worden, director of the Mutter Museum August 27,
Gretchen Worden, director of the Mutter Museum Nov.
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