Dr. Mathilde Krim, crusader against AIDS and Kings Point resident, dies at 91

Dr. Mathilde Krim, crusader against AIDS and Kings Point resident, dies at 91
Dr. Mathilde Krim, as seen here in late 2002, recalls the Lyndon Johnson presidency. (Photo still from C-Span)

Dr. Mathilde Krim, a crusader against the AIDS epidemic, civil rights leader, cancer researcher and longtime Kings Point resident, died on Jan. 15. She was 91.

Dr. Krim was among the earliest and strongest voices in raising awareness about AIDS in the 1980s, co-founding the American Foundation for AIDS Research with actress Elizabeth Taylor and others, testifying on Capitol Hill and making television appearances to counter stereotypes and advocate for those affected.

“She understood the science of it and the medicine of it,” her daughter Daphna Krim, a Maryland resident, said in an interview. “She just felt that it was abhorrent to stigmatize an entire group of people on the basis of the fact they were first identified with the disease and that whoever was willing to do that was ignoring the science.”

Mathilde Krim, who was involved in medical research for decades, and her husband Arthur B. Krim, an entertainment titan and advisor to Democratic presidents like John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, also flexed their connections both fighting for civil rights at home and against apartheid in South Africa.

“Dr. Krim had such a profound impact on the lives of so many,” Kevin Frost, the chief executive officer of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, said. “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.”

Dr. Mathilde Krim was born on July 9, 1926, to Eugene Galland and Elizabeth Krausse Galland and one of four children in Italy.

Dr. Krim was living in Switzerland at the time of World War II, her daughter Daphna Krim said, so she was “somewhat shielded” from it. But that changed in 1945, Krim said, when her mother saw newsreels in theatres.

“I think that was the beginning of her being passionate about a cause, when she realized all the horrible events of the war and that there were too many people who hadn’t spoken up and hadn’t fought the evil that had happened,” Krim said.

According to the New York Times, Krim then aided the Zionist paramilitary movement Irgun in purchasing arms from former French resistance members prior to Israel’s independence.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in 1948, married Bulgarian medical student David Danon and converted to Judaism. The two had a daughter named Daphna in 1951 and moved to Israel in 1953, after she obtained her doctoral degree from the University of Geneva.

Their marriage ultimately ended in divorce.

From 1953 to 1959, Dr. Krim worked at the Weizmann Institute of Science, where she helped develop a way to determine a baby’s gender before he or she is born.

It was also there that she met Arthur Krim, a Weizmann trustee and head of the United Artists Motion Picture Company. The two were married in 1958.

When the Krims moved back to the United States, Daphna Krim said they became active in the Civil Rights Movement. They worked with the NAACP, Urban League, held fundraisers and personally appealed to John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, she said, and even helped organized the March on Washington D.C. in 1963.

The family lived together in New York City, but bought a house in Kings Point in 1960 to go to on weekends, Krim said. Her mother fell in love with the area and its waterfront view.

One memory that stood out to her growing, Krim said, was when they went to a going away party for her friend’s brother and his boyfriend when she was a kid.

When Krim expressed some confusion, her mother said to her, rather casually, that “some men have boyfriends” and “some women have girlfriends.”

“That was my introduction to the gay community,” Krim said.

Dr. Krim was also a cancer researcher for decades, studying cytogenetics and cancer-causing viruses at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel from 1953 to 1959, becoming a research scientist at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in 1962, and directing the Interferon Laboratory from 1981 to 1985.

She ultimately retired from research, though, to focus on the AIDS issue.

“I came to the conclusion that it’s better if I stay on the outside and help people inside the labs,” Dr. Krim told the New York Times in 1988. “I’m not such a genius that somebody else cannot do what I was doing. And these would be people who cannot do what I can.”

Along with Dr. Joseph Sonnabend and other associates, Dr. Krim founded the AIDS Medical Foundation in April 1983, the first organization of its kind. They then merged with a California-based group in 1985 to become the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

Since its founding, the foundation has invested nearly $500 million towards its programs and thousands of grants for research, according to their website. That research went on to support inhibitor drugs that reduced AIDS-related deaths and syringe exchange programs, while their advocacy helped secure a slew of federal legislation that still exists today.

Dr. Krim served as the groups founding chairman and served as the chair of its board from 1990 to 2004, but kept up her advocacy well into her 80s, her daughter said.

“I don’t think they ever got tired at all,” Krim said, referring to her parents. “She really, until just a couple of years ago when she got too frail, just kept getting involved.”

Dr. Krim’s family recognized the importance of her work, which could often keep her busy, her daughter said – even her grandchildren. In one case, her granddaughter Amanda, then 7 years old, crafted a large white cardboard sign that said “SSSSSHHHHHHH!!!!!!! GMA is working on something important!”

“They never said anything about the times that she couldn’t be with them,” Krim said. “They were sort of in awe of what she was doing.”

Ultimately, Krim said, she believes her mother’s biggest lesson was one of tolerance.

“Everyone had potential, everyone can contribute and no one should be thought of as less than everyone else,” Krim said. “It sort of came through in everything that she did.”

Dr. Krim is survived by her daughter Daphna Krim, of Bethesda, Maryland, her grandchildren Robert and Amanda Crotty, and her younger sister Maria Jonzier of Port Washington.

The family requests that, in flew of flowers, donations may be sent to The Foundation for AIDS Research, 120 Wall Street, 13th Floor, New York, NY 10005, or be made online at www.amfar.org/krim.

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