Gretchen Worden

James Taylor,

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 it 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.


James Mundie

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 Museums.

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 and friend".

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 Historical Park.

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, 2003 interview,  Gretchen Worden, director of the Mutter Museum  Nov. 5, 2002


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