Penny Jane Gilmer
1943 - 2019
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Penny Jane Gilmer

Tallahassee - Penny Jane Gilmer passed away September 19, 2019, at the Big Bend Hospice House in Tallahassee, Florida. While a New Jersey native, Penny made Tallahassee her home for the last 42 years. She became the first woman tenure-track professor for the Florida State University Chemistry Department in 1977. Over her years of teaching and service at the university and community at large, she put her hand in many pots: teachings generations of students; working in university committees; serving as the faculty advisor to student organizations; mentoring countless students; and, spending many of her efforts advocating for policies and practices that would improve conditions at the university and in society for women and minorities. After decades doing research in biochemistry, she dedicated herself to a long-held interest—improving science education—earning a second doctorate in that and worked in a variety of grants and programs to teach science teachers better methods and involve them in local scientific research. In addition to her work at FSU, Penny had an active and influential life outside the university in causes that were near and dear to her heart. She was a long-standing member of Zonta International, which promotes programs to help women and girls; member and founder of Tallahassee Scientific Society; member of the Capital Women's Network, Tallahassee Symphony Society, Tallahassee Orchid Society, and Tallahassee Garden Club for which she organized the Nasturtium Circle. After retirement from FSU in 2010, she became a Master Gardener, dedicated herself to gardening and raising orchids, and her lifetime passion, photography.

Born in Hackensack, New Jersey, on August 19, 1943, Penny went on to earn degrees from Douglass College (BA-Chemistry); Bryn Mawr College (MS-Organic Chemistry); University of California, Berkeley (PhD-Biochemistry); and had 4 years of postdoctoral work at Stanford University, before becoming a professor of Chemistry at FSU. In 2004, she also earned a D.Sc.Ed. from Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia (Science Education). She retired from FSU in 2010 as the Nancy Marcus Emerita Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Penny leaves behind a grieving husband and colleague, Sanford Safron, daughter Helena Safron, son Nathaniel Safron (Lucilia), grandchildren Tessa and Jeffrey, brother Patrick Gilmer (Claudia), sister-in-law Tobi Safron Besse (Bill), several nephews, nieces and cousins, and many dear friends. A celebration of her life will be held in the not-too-distant future. In lieu of flowers, please consider donating in her name to Zonta International, American Cancer Society, Pace Center for Girls, Hope Community (Big Bend Homeless Coalition) or Big Bend Hospice, or to the Oasis Center for Women and Girls.

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Published in Tallahassee Democrat on Sep. 24, 2019.
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September 25, 2019
Rest in peace. Our community is a better place because of you.
Lynn Jones
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