Dr. Mathilde Krim, 91, amfAR’s founding chairman and a tireless leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS, died Monday at her home in King’s Point, N.Y.
The AIDS-fighting organization posted a tribute to Krim on its site. In the early Eighties, when few were willing to address or discuss the severity of AIDS publicly, Mathilde Krim worked tirelessly to help advance scientific and medical research. Shortly after AIDS cases were reported in 1981, Krim was among the first to recognize that the disease raised grave scientific and medical questions, and that it ran the risk of becoming a deadly epidemic, according to the online tribute. Committed to raising awareness, Krim also became personally engaged in AIDS research through her work with interferons — the natural substances that are now used in the treatment of certain viral and neoplastic diseases.
Kenneth Cole, amfAR’s longtime chairman whom Krim brought into the fold of the organization, said Tuesday, “Dr. Krim was amfAR’s shining light and my personal mentor. Her courageous leadership, at a time when few were willing to confront this crisis, has benefited lives globally and will continue to inspire our commitment to find a cure.“
At a 2013 screening of HBO Documentary Films’ “The Battle of amfAR,” Krim told WWD, “We’ve made lots of progress. The drugs are still not perfect. There are more advances needed to be made in research.”
The film tells the story of how Krim, a research scientist, and Elizabeth Taylor launched the country’s first AIDS research foundation and changed the way people think about HIV/AIDS. ” Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman directed the film and Cole served as executive producer. The documentary will be aired again Saturday at 5 p.m. on HBO as a tribute to Krim, an HBO spokesman said Wednesday.
Before ailing health forced Krim to take a less active role in amfAR, she was the group’s unyielding champion. In 1983, Krim helped to create the AIDS Medical Foundation with Dr. Joseph Sonnabend and a few associates. Two years later AMF joined forces with the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR.) Over the years, amfAR established itself as the leading national nonprofit dedicated to pioneering laboratory and clinical AIDS research, HIV prevention and advocacy. As the group’s founding chairman, Krimalso served as amfAR’s chairman of the board from 1990 to 2004. Throughout her tenure, Krim was a steadfast advocate and she helped to keep the organization afloat more than once, according to amfAR’s online obituary. At times, Krim testified on Capitol Hill to help champion legislation that helped expanded lifesaving treatment and bolster federal funding for AIDS research.
E-mailing from Uganda “where the work goes on,” pioneering AIDS physician Paul Volberding said Tuesday, “Mathilde was a true fighter. First for Israel, then for AIDS. She brought a fighter’s intensity and focus in order to create hope at a dark time in our efforts to understand and reverse the disease when we knew so little. Her research with interferon remains important to this day and she was a vital participant and leader in creating AIDS activism. She raised funds, hosted key events and created what in part became amfAR, the leading private funder of HIV research.”
With the help of an amfAR grant, Volberding of the University of California at San Francisco is trying to find a cure for AIDS/HIV. He recalled how Krim “remained inquiring and involved to the end and helped in amfAR’s current central goal in a search for a cure. She was unafraid and that courage should be recalled as we continue her work.”
Jonathan Canno, a founder of amfAR with Krim said, “She was a truly great human being and was the epitome of kindness and selflessness. Mathilde worked tirelessly and passionately to help those in need. She made an incredible impact on my life, and I consider myself lucky to have known and worked with her.”
The eldest of four children, Krim grew up in Switzerland. One of the most pivotal moments of her life occurred at the age of 18 in 1945, when she saw a news clip at the movies of the evacuation of a Nazi concentration camp. Krim later earned a Ph.D. from the University of Geneva in 1953. For the next six years, she researched cytogenetics and cancer-causing viruses at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, where she was a member of the team that first developed a method for the prenatal determination of sex, the online tribute said.
In 1958 after marrying Arthur B. Krim, who then headed the United Artists Motion Picture Co. and went on to start Orion Pictures, she moved to New York and joined the research staff of Cornell University Medical School. Perhaps her familiarity with the ins and outs of the Hollywood crowd gave her an appreciation for how celebrities can help to advance a cause, as many did decades later on behalf of amfAR. She later worked as a research scientist at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research and went on to serve as director of its Interferon Laboratory. She held the academic appointment of adjunct professor of Public Health and Management, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University.
The recipient of 16 doctorates honoris causa alone, Krim received numerous other honors most notably the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000. “Were it not for the profound sadness I feel for being so close to immense tragedy,” said Dr. Krim, “I would consider my work for amfAR, an organization poised on the frontiers of medical research, the most exciting, enviable and rewarding of all.”
Arlen Andelson, an amfAR board member said Wednesday, “Mathilde’s contributions are invaluable and have made the entire world a better place. It was my privilege to have known her and to have been allowed to work alongside her at amfAR.”
Krim is survived by her daughter Daphna Krim, two grandchldren, and Krim’s sister Maria Jonzier. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations may be sent to amfAR.