Ellen Jacobsen, MD
unknown - August 28, 2013
Ellen Townley Cook “Cookie” Jacobsen, MD, 94, of Cazenovia, died on Aug. 28, 2013, peacefully at home surrounded by loved ones. She was born June 25, 1919, in Painted Post, N.Y., the daughter of Charles “Doc” Cook and Mary Belle Miller Cook. Her mother was an early graduate of Cornell Law School and served as justice of the peace and judge in Corning, N.Y. Her father, also a Cornell graduate, was a founding engineer for Ingersoll Rand. He imparted his love of sailing, fishing and storytelling to Cookie as her mother imparted a life-long interest in books and reading.
Cookie graduated from The Knox School for Girls (currently the Otesaga Inn) in Cooperstown, N.Y., where she excelled both academically as well as in swimming and equestrian events. She received her Bachelor of Science from Cornell University and went on to receive a Master of Science degree in marine biology. Her thesis was entitled “Experimental pancreatic diabetes in the calf.” (Cornell, Ithaca, N.Y., 1945). In a surprise move her thesis professor believing she would make a superb physician submitted an application on her behalf to the Syracuse College of Medicine. She was accepted immediately and entered Syracuse University College of Medicine that became Upstate Medical Center.
After graduation in 1950, Dr. Cook became the first woman resident in internal medicine. She joined the faculty in 1953 as the first woman in the department of medicine. She was part of the first cardiac catheterization team with Dr. J. Howland Auchincloss. After observing cases of infected valvular heart disease she was motivated to focus on infectious disease. Collaborating with Dr. Paul Bunn, the chief of infectious disease medicine, she published numerous papers, made presentations and served as consultant to USAID. Chair of the Department of Medicine Dr. Richard Lyons asked her to establish the first Student and Employee Health Service for Upstate Medical Center. This position led to appointment of the AAMC committee on Student Health Services that influenced the development of student health services throughout U.S. Medical Schools.
In 1958, Cookie met and married the love of her life, Carlyle F. “Jake” Jacobsen, PhD., an internationally known neurophysiologist, leading figure in medical administration, and the newly arrived president of Upstate Medical Center. Jake and Cookie worked tirelessly and effectively to promote academic excellence and a strong sense of community during a period of exceptional growth. As “First Lady” of the medical school, Cookie hosted numerous students, faculty and visiting dignitaries before catering was readily available and without assistance of household staff. She was incredibly supportive but made it clear she would not be a path to the ear of the president. Due to their joint expertise they were asked to represent USAID on several assignments in Lebanon, Iran and India. Cookie maintained a lifelong interest in Middle Eastern culture, politics and cuisine and while traveling, developed a worldwide network of friends and admirers. She further extended her network while traveling with Jake on NIH Study section reviews. This knowledge helped enabled her to place students and residents in optimal assignments around the country.
In the role of director of student/employee health, Dr. Cook recognized the need for additional training in psychological counseling. In 1967 Dr. Cook took a leave of absence from the faculty to pursue a residency in psychiatry. Subsequently she established the Liaison Consultation Service for Psychiatry that provided an interface between psychiatry and all other clinical services at University Hospital. Drawing on her creativity, ingenuity and expertise she developed innovative and cogent interaction among departments that improved the effectiveness of delivering good patient care. Additionally, Dr. Cook served on the Psychiatry Committee of the CALGB Cancer Research Group.
As a physician and educator, Cookie has served as an institutional role model for women. She served on the Admissions Committee and Student Affairs Committee helping assure access and fair treatment of women. To commemorate Upstate’s preeminent role in the education of women physicians, Dr. Cook was instrumental in helping the medical school’s chapter of the American Medical Woman’s Association commission a painting of Elizabeth Blackwell, a graduate of Geneva Medical College (now Upstate Medical University) the first woman physician educated in America. At the unveiling of the Blackwell portrait, “Jake” announced the official naming of Elizabeth Blackwell Street and the creation of Elizabeth Blackwell Day.
Ellen Cook Jacobsen was a “legend” often referred to as the “matriarch” of Upstate even after her husband’s death in 1974. She served in many capacities: educator, clinician and advisor to all. She was a wise counselor to her colleagues, deans and presidents of Upstate. Many would say a meal shared with Cookie was better than any professional counseling session. Few students, residents or clinicians have not benefited from her insight and wisdom. She was a holistic physician before the term was popular. She believed in taking a thorough history, including the individual’s personal and social narrative and complete physical exam. This enabled her to make unique recommendations considering the patient’s values.
Dr. Cook retired in 1990 as full professor of both medicine and psychiatry. She received the SUNY Upstate President’s award for Distinguished Service as well as the Upstate Medical Alumni Association’s distinguished Alumna Award. The Medical Alumni Foundation established the Ellen Cook Jacobsen Psychiatry Fellowship in recognition of her lifetime contributions to resident and student education. During her retirement she continued her avid support for Upstate in many areas. She assisted New York State Senator Nancy Lorraine Hoffman on health issues affecting prison populations, capitalizing on her previous service on the New York State Prison Health Commission and her expertise in the management of tuberculosis.
Cookie’s life has been defined by complete selflessness, fierce loyalty, unparalleled listening skills and lifelong intellectual curiosity. She always had time to help a friend, patient or colleague. She had a special gift for nurturing trusting relationships with people of all ages and ethnicities. She has made such extensive contributions to the lives of so many, to say she will be enormously missed, would be a colossal understatement.
There will be no services.
In lieu of flowers, if you wish, please make contributions to the Upstate Medical Alumni Association, Carlyle and Ellen Cook Jacobsen Fund, Setnor Building No. 1510, 750 East Adams St., Syracuse, NY 13210.
For a guest book, please visit scheppfamily.com.