amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

amfAR Founding Chairman Dr. Mathilde Krim: 1926−2018

krim 500aDr. Mathilde Krim, amfAR’s Founding Chairman and an inspirational leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS, passed away peacefully at her home in King’s Point, NY, on Monday evening, January 15.

In a 2006 tribute to Dr. Mathilde Krim, playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer wrote, “…one can only be filled with overpowering awe and gratitude that such a person has lived among us.” It is a sentiment shared by all who knew and worked with Mathilde Krim.

Soon after the earliest cases of AIDS were reported in 1981, Dr. Krim was among the first to recognize that this new disease raised grave scientific and medical questions and that it had the potential to spread rapidly and sow the seeds of a deadly epidemic. She dedicated herself to increasing the public’s awareness of AIDS and became personally active in AIDS research through her work with interferons—natural substances now used in the treatment of certain viral and neoplastic diseases.

In April 1983, along with Dr. Joseph Sonnabend and a small group of associates, Dr. Krim founded the AIDS Medical Foundation (AMF), the first private organization concerned with fostering and supporting AIDS research. In 1985, AMF merged with a like-minded group based in California to form the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), which soon became the preeminent national nonprofit organization devoted to mobilizing the public’s generosity in support of trailblazing laboratory and clinical AIDS research, HIV prevention, and advocacy.

Dr. Krim was amfAR’s founding chairman and was chairman of the board from 1990 to 2004. Throughout, she was the heart and soul of the organization. She helped create it, supported it, kept it afloat more than once, and guided it with extraordinary dedication until poor health forced her to assume a less active role. amfAR's staff adored her because, amid the multitude of demands made on her time, she always found time to advise and nurture them, comfort and console them, and on many occasions entertain them royally in her home.

“Mathilde did carry AIDS into the social mainstream,” wrote the late Allan Rosenfield, Dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and a longtime member of amfAR’s Board of Trustees. “She saw that AIDS would demand the intellectual resources of the fields of medicine, basic science and public health, and she set out to bring them to amfAR to guide its research grantmaking, overturning many stereotypical notions of gay men in the process.”

Dr. Krim testified on Capitol Hill on several occasions and, with the help of allies such as Senator Edward M. Kennedy, was a driving force behind legislation that expanded access to lifesaving treatment and behind efforts to scale up federal funding for AIDS research.

“Mathilde will be remembered as one of the great human rights leaders of our time. Her brilliance and compassion reached far beyond public health as an example for us all of the importance of tolerance and social justice. “ – amfAR Trustee Harry Belafonte“Dr. Krim had such a profound impact on the lives of so many,” said amfAR Chief Executive Officer Kevin Robert Frost. “While we all feel a penetrating sadness at the loss of someone we loved so deeply, it is important to remember how much she gave us and the millions for whom she dedicated her life.”

In the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Nan Robertson, “To understand [Mathilde Krim], one must go back to a single event that changed her life forever, shaping every major decision thereafter.” That event occurred in the winter of 1945 in Geneva, Switzerland, where Mathilde Galland grew up during World War II. She was the much-loved eldest of four children, "doted upon by parents [Eugene Galland and Elizabeth Krausse Galland] and grandparents whose roots were in the German-speaking section of Czechoslovakia, in Switzerland, and in Italy, where she was born," on July 9, 1926. 

One winter day in 1945, the 18-year-old Mathilde went to the movies. The newsreel showed the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp. She saw the hundreds of corpses and ragged, emaciated survivors, too weak to stand. Her memory of that experience evolved into the maxims that defined her philosophy of life and made her a fierce opponent of prejudice and discrimination wherever she encountered them. 

Dr. Krim received her Ph.D. from the University of Geneva in 1953. From 1953 to 1959, she pursued research in 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.

She moved to New York and joined the research staff of Cornell University Medical School following her marriage, in 1958, to the late Arthur B. Krim, a New York attorney, then head of United Artists Motion Picture Company and later founder of Orion Pictures. Starting in 1962, Dr. Krim worked as a research scientist at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research and, from 1981 to 1985, she was the 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.

Mathilde Krim received 16 doctorates honoris causa and many other honors and distinctions. In August 2000 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest civilian honor in the United States. “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.”

“Dr. Krim’s 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,” said amfAR Chairman Kenneth Cole.

Dr. Krim is survived by her daughter Daphna Krim (Sergio Kapfer) of Bethesda, MD; grandson Robert Crotty (Mayra) of Columbus, OH; granddaughter Amanda Crotty of Burlington, VT; and sister Maria Jonzier of Port Washington, NY.

At the request of her family, donations may be sent in lieu of flowers to amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, 120 Wall Street, 13th Floor, New York, NY 10005, or may be made online at www.amfar.org/krim.