Dr. Joan Gill passed away on May 9th after a hard-fought battle with cancer. She was a devoted mother to her daughter Gretchen, PhD, and a longtime investigator at the Blood Research Institute in its Comprehensive Center for Bleeding Disorders. The following is a biography of Dr. Gill.
Dr. Joan Gill was born in Los Angeles but her parents’ desire to be near family pushed them to relocate to Peshtigo when she was one year old. The oldest of six, Joan said the expectations were strong for her. “I was always being told that I had to set a good example for my siblings,” she recalls.
Her father ran an auto repair garage and took correspondence courses to become an accountant. Tragically, he died in a car accident during the Christmas season when Joan was 21. Her mother passed away eight years later from emphysema. “I became the matriarch of the family then,” Dr. Gill explained. She was 29 at the time.
Joan Gill recalls a childhood where lots of games were played and a great deal of time was spent outside. When the kids were all in the house, she recalls their mother allowing tunnels to be created by turning furniture upside down and placing blankets on top.
“It was a small town. We were outside all the time. We invented things. I remember we built playhouses out of pickle boxes.”
She also began to play classical piano at age 8. Joan’s mother, a music teacher, got her started but a next door neighbor became her weekly tutor. Joan accompanied her chorus on the piano at Marinette Catholic High School. She enjoyed playing both classical and pop music tunes throughout her life.
Dr. Gill attended St. Norbert’s College in De Pere in the early 1960s and there she first considered becoming a doctor. This wasn’t a popular move for women then but her advisors told her that she certainly was smart enough for the profession.
Her undergraduate studies were in Biology. While in college, she worked in a small hospital doing blood counts. She enjoyed the work at first but found it tedious after a while. However, the seeds for a medical career began to take root.
Her graduate work took her to the University of Illinois in Chicago where she pursued a PhD in Pharmacology. Soon thereafter, she married and had a daughter. The young family settled in Madison and she became a stay-at-home mother.
“I was starved for intellectual stimulation,” she remembers. To feed her hunger, Dr. Gill began her studies at the Medical College of Wisconsin in 1972. “Back then,” she said, “women didn’t go to medical school - especially women with small children.”
Upon graduation in 1976, Dr. Gill had a pediatric residency at MCW. She joined BCW in 1981 as a fellow and started the hemophilia program in 1984.
At the age of 73, Dr. Gill reflected back on what her life has taught her so far. “Time goes by so fast. It makes mortality more real.”
And when asked what has driven her throughout her career, she smiled and said, “There are always so many new things that are coming along that wow you. We all feel the excitement of developing new things as a research team.”