Dr. Marian S. Kafka


Dr. Marian S. Kafka, a retired neuroscientist who worked for decades at NIH and NIMH, died of complications from heart failure on March 15 at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, MD. She was 96.

Kafka was born Marian Lewit Stern in Richmond, VA, the daughter of Adele Lewit Stern, a violin teacher and violinist with the Richmond Symphony, and Henry Sycle Stern, a pediatrician. Marian earned a B.A. in zoology from Connecticut College in 1948 and a doctorate in physiology from the University of Chicago in 1952.

That is where she met John S. Kafka, a Jewish refugee from Austria, in a graduate class on instinctual behavior. The class was not their favorite, they both noted later, but the relationship was a keeper. They were married for 68 years until John, a prominent psychoanalyst, died at age 99 in 2020.

Kafka was a research scientist with NIH from 1965 to 1982, then with NIMH from 1982 to 1986, before heading a neurobiology and psychopharmacology grant-review committee at NIMH from 1986 to 1990. She is an author of dozens of journal articles concerning cell membranes, nerve receptors, circadian rhythms and many other topics.

She was a pianist and studied modern dance from childhood into her 80s. She loved family, friends, travel, the arts, novels, and a very dry martini.

She is preceded in death by her husband, John, and her beloved younger brother, Daniel. Survivors include her sons, Egon, Paul, and Alexander; Patricia Gibbons; daughter-in-law, Lauren Lantos Kafka; and four grandchildren, Adrienne and Julian Kafka, and Gabriel and Charlotte Kafka-Gibbons.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Doctors Without Borders, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society.

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