Tonight I wanted … nay, I needed … to write about something other than … well, you-know-who. So I spent some three hours searching for a story that had nothing to do with U.S. politics. You wouldn’t believe how hard that was!!! Even the European news sites had all you-know-who … every single bloomin’ story! But I knew I had found my story when I saw this picture …This woman’s office is the first I have seen that looks worse than my own! The woman is one Dr. Brenda Milner, a professor of psychology in the department of neurology and neurosurgery at McGill University in Montreal, best known for discovering the seat of memory in the brain, the foundational finding of cognitive neuroscience. Now, if I knew what all that meant …
Dr. Milner is 98 years old and still going strong! Dr. Milner continues working, because she sees no reason not to. Neither McGill nor the affiliated Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital has asked her to step aside. “People think because I’m 98 years old I must be emerita,” she said. “Well, not at all. I’m still nosy, you know, curious.”
In 2014 she won three prominent achievement awards, which came with money for research. She has a project: a continuing study to investigate how the healthy brain’s intellectual left hemisphere coordinates with its more aesthetic right one in thinking and memory. (Perhaps I should travel up to Montreal, because I am fairly certain that my left and right hemispheres do not coordinate with one another at all!!!)
She has made some concessions to her age … she only goes into the office about three days a week now. “And I have some rules,” she added. “I will take on postdoctoral students, but not graduate students. Graduate students need to know you’ll be around for five years or so, and well” — she chuckled, looking up at the ceiling — “well, it’s very difficult if they have to switch to someone else, you know.”
Dr. Milner changed the course of brain science for good as a newly minted Ph.D. in the 1950s by identifying the specific brain organ that is crucial to memory formation. I will leave out the technical detail, as I do not understand it myself, but for any interested, this New York Times article gives more detail about her work and is quite fascinating.
Dr. Milner was born in Manchester, England, and was homeschooled until age 8 by her father, a music critic and piano teacher. By the time she was 6-years-old, she was fluent in German as well as English. She fell in love with mathematics and science and earned a scholarship to Cambridge University. She has over 20 honorary degrees and many distinguished awards, far too numerous to list here.
Though she does not drive, Dr. Milner did once pass her driving test …
The driving instructor wiped his brow with a handkerchief, and not just because of the heat. His student — a grown woman, squinting over the dashboard — was ramming the curb in an effort to parallel park.
“We reached an agreement, right then and there: He let me pass the test, and I promised never to drive,” Brenda Milner said, smiling to herself at the decades-old memory. “You see, my spatial skills aren’t so good. That’s primarily a right-brain function.” – New York Times, 15 May 2017
Fortunately, she doesn’t need to drive to work. “I live very close; it’s a 10-minute walk up the hill, so it gives me a good reason to come in regularly.”
I admire this woman very much! She is dedicated and has a sense of humour, and most important, she isn’t letting age slow her down, but just keeps on giving of her time and talents. I am 23 years younger than she, and I suspect her energy levels far exceed my own. I am so glad I stumbled across Dr. Milner tonight!