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In Memorium: Micki Iris

February 26, 2020

Madelyn Anne (Micki) Iris passed away on January 7, 2020, after facing the challenge of cancer for 2 1/2 years.

Micki was born and raised in Chicago, attended the Chicago public schools as a child. She earned a BA from Northwestern (I1968), an MA from the University of Toronto (1970), and a Ph.D. from Northwestern (1981). Initially interested in social and cultural aspects of medieval England, her research interests shifted to the southwest US, prompted by her work with Professor Ossy Werner. Her dissertation focused on aspects of language acquisition among Navajo children living on the Navajo Nation reservation in the Four Corners area.

While a graduate student, she met her husband Mark at a graduate student party. Each had been invited to the party by the hosts, to be set up with someone else. Instead they connected with one another, were married in 1975.

Post-graduation, she worked on various family issues at the Erikson Institute. while maintaining her interest in, and love for, the Southwest. Subsequently, her focus shifted to the field of gerontology, and she joined the Northwestern Medical School faculty, serving at the Buehler Center on Aging for many years, eventually becoming its Acting Director.

She maintained her interest in the southwest, joining Ossy Werner in overseeing Northwestern's Summer Field School in Anthropology on the Navajo Nation Reservation. Following Ossy's retirement, she served as Director of that field school for several years.

Throughout all this, she was the loving, devoted mother of two sons, Ariel and David. David had severe disabilities, which led the Iris family to connect with Keshet, a Chicago area organization created to serve Jewish families with children with disabilities. Her active work with the group led to her serving several years as co-president of that organization, overseeing the growth of its varied educational and recreational programs, all of which heavily stressed mainstreaming of these children. In 1996, David died suddenly after a short illness, a tragedy that did not diminish her commitment to this cause.

Following her service at Northwestern, she assumed the position of Associate Director, and then Director, of Research, at CJE Senior Life. During her years there, she was intensively involved in a variety of research projects. Most recently, she focused on issues of elder abuse and self-neglect, earning a national reputation in these areas.

Throughout her career, she was an enthusiastic advocate for applied anthropology, and a devoted practitioner of community-based anthropology. She creatively explored new approaches and methods that would best fit the settings in which she worked. She was an enthusiastic learning partner with both her students and colleagues. Micki generously shared her time and skills to mentor the next generation of anthropologists.
In her retirement, confronting cancer, Micki unleashed her creative energy to write a graphic novel, complete with songs and lyrics, detailing how she challenged a grim diagnosis with humor, insight, and optimism.

Micki is survived by her husband, Mark, son Ariel, daughter in law Julia, grandchildren Daniel, Abigail, Jacob, and sister Sharon Kellman. She also leaves behind a wonderful circle of extraordinarily supportive friends.
Professor Emeritus Ossy Werner will be hosting a gathering in honor of Micki in Santa Fe on August 29. If interested, please contact Mim Dixon at