Slavica Matacic, 80, Haverford College professor, researcher

Slavica Matacic
Slavica Matacic
Posted: February 19, 2014

Slavica Matacic, 80, of Haverford, a pioneering researcher and professor of biology at Haverford College who worked to widen the study of sciences among women and minorities, died of pneumonia Wednesday, Feb. 5, at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

When Dr. Matacic arrived at Haverford in 1964, the faculty was predominantly male. Over the next three and a half decades, until retiring in 1999, she worked to promote the success of women, minorities, and students who were the first in their families to attend college.

Cobbling together grants from General Electric Co. and the Pew Charitable Trusts, she developed the Mentoring and Student Teaching program (MAST). The program brings middle- and high-school students from Philadelphia public schools to campus, where they work with undergraduates.

The MAST program later received support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and continues as a project of the Marian E. Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center, a platform for scholarly activities among faculty and students at Haverford.

Dr. Matacic offered mentoring for generations of students, guiding them through work in the sciences, helping them to locate on- and off-campus research opportunities, and working with them individually.

"She was endlessly supportive of her student advisees, speaking her mind honestly where honesty was needed, and was much beloved by them," the college said in a statement.

She was chair of the college's Committee on Diversity. On her retirement, the college established the Slavica Matacic Scholarship, which provides financial help to multicultural students.

Dr. Matacic was a native of Yugoslavia. Her family lost its possessions because of opposition to the communist rule of the country after 1946.

She earned bachelor's and master's of science degrees in 1959 from the University of Zagreb School of Pharmacy in Yugoslavia. By 1962, she had completed a doctorate in biochemistry from the university. As a promising researcher, she was accepted as the only noncommunist at the Ruder Boskovic Institute, the national research center.

In 1963, Dr. Matacic met Ariel Loewy, a cell biologist on sabbatical from Haverford. He recruited her to become a postdoctoral associate at his laboratory.

While still in Yugoslavia, she and Mihovil Matacic wed secretly in July 1964 in a Catholic church, as church weddings were illegal then. They came to America in October 1964.

Dr. Matacic joined the Haverford faculty as an assistant professor of biology late in 1964. She taught upper-level courses on the biochemistry of proteins and genetics.

She and Loewy were the first to purify and characterize transglutaminase, otherwise known as the blood clotting factor XIII, according to a statement from the college. The factor has applications for hemophilia and other medical conditions.

Dr. Matacic established her own research laboratory, which drew some of the department's top students. In 1985, she was awarded the Lindback Foundation's prize for distinguished teaching.

During sabbaticals, she worked in laboratories at the Wistar Institute and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and did research into cystic fibrosis at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

She was known for baking cakes and Christmas cookies, and regularly prepared meals for St. John's Hospice, a shelter for the homeless on Ridge Avenue.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by son Michael; daughter Andrea Matacic Cayley; and five grandchildren.

A 9:30 a.m. visitation on Tuesday, Feb. 18, will be followed by a 10:30 a.m. Funeral Service at St. Thomas of Villanova Church on the campus of Villanova University. Burial is private.

Donations may be made to the Slavica Matacic Scholarship, c/o Haverford College, Haverford, Pa. 19041.


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