Helen Guthrie, longtime nutritional sciences faculty member, dies at 92

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Helen Guthrie, who served for 40 years as a Penn State faculty member, including 14 years as head of the nutrition department, passed away on Feb. 24. She was 92.

Guthrie was professor emerita of nutrition at Penn State. When she retired in 1992, an endowed chair in the Department of Nutritional Sciences was created and named in her honor. 

Barbara Rolls, professor and Helen A. Guthrie Chair of Nutritional Sciences, said not only does she have gratitude for Guthrie for the endowed chair, but also because Guthrie blazed a trail for women.

“She really was a pioneer for women in science and academia,” Rolls said. “It was not until I got to know her that I realized that she was a pioneer; until then I took for granted that women were department heads.”

A. Catharine Ross, professor, occupant of the Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair and department head, said Guthrie will have a lasting legacy in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and in the nutrition field, in part because she edited an introductory textbook that many alumni will remember very well, which set the standard for undergraduate nutrition education.

"Helen's legacy to the department includes its strong emphasis on human nutrition, and on dissemination of reliable nutrition information to the public,” Ross said. “As a proponent for science-based nutrition education, she was a great stateslady. She elevated nutrition at Penn State through her leadership to the department and profession. It was to honor those qualities that donors endowed the Helen Guthrie chair, one of the first named chairs in nutrition departments around the country."

Ann Crouter, Raymond E. and Erin Stuart Schultz Dean of the College of Health and Human Development, recalls admiring Guthrie from afar when Guthrie was a distinguished senior faculty member in nutrition, and Crouter was a junior faculty member in human development and family studies just finding her way in the college.

“Helen was a very impressive figure — research active, accomplished at administration, respected by her scientific peers and by industry leaders, and, equally impressive, gracious and kind,” Crouter said. “I’m sure I wasn’t the only young faculty member who saw Dr. Guthrie as a role model. She contributed so much to her department, discipline and college and will be sorely missed.”

Her research interests in infant nutrition, nutrition education, nutritional assessment and international nutrition were reported in more than 100 publications. She authored seven editions of a college textbook, “Introductory Nutrition,” and co-authored the book, “Human Nutrition.” She also served on many University and professional committees, including the Food and Nutrition Board and the Recommended Dietary Allowances Committee of the National Academy of Sciences.

Guthrie received many honors in her career, including the Borden Award in human nutrition research from the American Home Economic Association, the Elvejhem Award for Public Services from the American Institute of Nutrition, and the Atwater Award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

She was a distinguished alumna of the College of Human Ecology at Michigan State University and a recipient of the Research Career Award from the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State.

In 2000, Guthrie and her husband, George, endowed an honors scholarship to benefit students in the nutritional sciences department at Penn State. Memorial contributions to this scholarship fund may be made by mail to Penn State University, 1 Old Main, University Park, PA 16802, with instruction that the contribution be added to the Guthrie Honors Scholarship in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State.

The family will have a celebration of Guthrie's life in the summer of 2018, at a date to be determined. A complete obituary can be viewed here.

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Last Updated March 12, 2018