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Nancy Stafford Milburn

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death of former Trustee and Life Trustee, Nancy Stafford Milburn, on November 8, 2022.  She was 95.

Nancy was a Stafford Professor of Biology emerita at Tufts University, respected insect neurophysiologist, and a gifted teacher at Tufts since 1958. She also chaired the Tufts Department of Biology from 1967-1968 and served from 1972-1982 as the university’s Dean of the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Jackson.

Nancy was born September 7, 1927, in Syracuse, NY, to George E. Stafford and Jeannette Martin Stafford. Nancy attended Watertown, NY schools, and graduated from Radcliffe College in February 1949. She and her husband, Richard H. Milburn, were both winners of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search Scholarships when they met in 1945. They reconnected at Harvard and married in August 1951. Nancy turned down a scholarship to medical school in order to work with Dr. Kenneth Roeder at Tufts, receiving her Master of Science in June 1950. She was awarded her doctorate in biology in March 1959, completing her dissertation in the laboratory of Dr. John Welsh of Harvard University.

Nancy began teaching at Tufts before she completed her doctorate. Her teaching included courses in neurophysiology, cell biology, electron microscopy, and insect physiology. Her research focused mainly on arthropod central nervous systems, particularly neurosecretion in cockroaches. Dr. Milburn was proud of her many students who went on into scientific research or medical school. She was an active mentor of young women in the sciences, and a strong role model for women in science and academic administration. At Tufts in 1978, Jackson College for Women and the College of Liberal Arts (for men) became a single entity and Nancy was the first to hold both deanships. She strove to create an academic milieu in which women would achieve academically on a par with men, thrive as prospective professionals, and succeed as faculty members and administrators. Scientific literacy for nonscientists was also important to her, and she created a very successful non-majors course entitled “Scientific Research, Creationism, and the American Social Contract.”

Among the many organizational responsibilities that took her all over the world. Nancy served on the Fulbright Council for the International Exchange of Scholars, as an alumnae trustee for Radcliffe College, as chair of the Committee on Radcliffe-Harvard Relations, as a Trustee of both Bentley College and Regis Colleges, and as a Corporation Member and Trustee of WHOI.

On her retirement in 1998, she was saluted for her achievements in the service of women in science and scientific literacy for all through the joining of Tufts and Jackson Colleges, the building of a strong core of women faculty in all departments, the introduction of affirmative action procedures into faculty searches, and the advancement of policies to strengthen the role of women in academe. Her independent spirit, her generous gifts of knowledge, and her excellent sense of humor will be deeply missed.

She leaves two daughters, Sarah S. Milburn of Lawrenceville, NJ, and Anne M. Estes (husband Nathaniel E. Estes) of Falmouth, MA; and four grandchildren: Emma C.M. Moore, Merlin R.M. Moore, Jasper R.R. Estes, and Ronin D. Estes. Her husband of 65 years predeceased her; along with a young son, Richard M. Milburn; and her brother, Martin Douglas Stafford. Nancy also leaves behind many friends, colleagues, and former students in the academic research community.

There will be a Memorial Service for Nancy on June 3, at 12:30 p.m., at Falmouth Friends Meeting House, 572 W Falmouth Highway, Falmouth, Mass. All are welcome to attend.

In lieu of flowers, please make memorial gifts to the WHOI by going to their website at and clicking on the ‘give now’ button. For online guestbook, visit:

Published by Boston Globe from Nov. 11-13, 2022