Jeanne Stove Poindexter, obituary

Tue, 07/21/2020 - 11:15am

Jeanne Stove Poindexter, 83, passed away on July 15, 2020 with her daughters Portia and Carla at her side. Born in LaMoine, Illinois, she spent her much of her childhood in New Castle, Indiana. After living a full life in New York City for over 50 years, Jeanne had been living at Quarry Hill in Camden, Maine, since 2018.

From the 1960s to 1990s, Jeanne worked as a professor or research scientist at Indiana University, New York University, Medgar Evers College, the Public Health Research Institute (N.Y.), The Marine Biological Laboratories in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Long Island University at Brooklyn, and Barnard College of Columbia University.  

Long recognized for pioneering research on the stalked bacterium Caulobacter crescentus, she was a member of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) for over 60 years, was a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology since 1993, and was Chair of ASM’s Division I: General Microbiology in 1991.

She was also a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, and the Microbiology Society of the United Kingdom. Dr. Poindexter retired in 2007 after 43 years of research, teaching and mentoring, the last 16 years spent at Barnard College, where she was Professor Emerita of the Biological Sciences.

In 2012, Poindexter was named a Woman of Distinction by the New York State Senate, an honor recognizing women living and working in New York, and whose contributions had “greatly enriched the quality of life in their communities and beyond.” 

In 2020, the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses named a bacterial virus after her (the Poindextervirus), an honor reserved for famous scientists who have worked on such organisms (bacteriophages). 

Jeanne was a fiercely independent woman who retained her sense of fun, curiosity and above all, kindness, throughout her life.  Upon finishing high school in Indiana, rather than following the then-traditional path for women (as instructed), she pursued a career in microbiology.  After completing her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkley in 1963, Jeanne married trombonist Porter Poindexter, whom she had met in high school, moved to New York City and raised a family while becoming a recognized expert in her field.  

Jeanne published landmark scientific studies on specific microbial organisms that fundamentally altered the manner in which such organisms are analyzed.  Among other things, she also served on a task group formed by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering to advise NASA on planning for the safe handling of samples potentially brought back from the Mars surface to prevent possible contamination of Earth by microbes from another world.  

Jeanne’s love of teaching and expertise in the field was reflected in the numerous honors she received.  Among those of which she was most proud were the student-nominated, Barnard Emily Gregory Teaching Award, as well as the American Society of Microbiology’s Carski Foundation Distinguished Teaching Award for exemplary teaching and encouragement of undergraduate students toward subsequent achievement.  In 2014, the Barnard Alumnae of Color organization also recognized her as an educator who had positively influenced alumnae of color, an honor she treasured.

Her passion for teaching did not derive from simply imparting knowledge.  Jeanne’s soul work was to inspire young people, especially women, from all walks of life to go into science or any other field to make the world a better place.  Her own work in this vein did not stop with teaching. 

She played a lead role in the battle to preserve affordable housing in New York City, for which she was recognized by the NY State Senate.  She volunteered for Habitat for Humanity.  She was a major supporter of Covenant House in N.Y., which provides shelter and support to homeless, runaway and trafficked youth.  In her retirement, she tutored young people in her apartment building and indulged her love of board games by organizing game nights for senior citizens in her community.

Throughout all of this, Jeanne remained focused on her family and having fun when possible.  Her dynamic career reflected her dedication to her family.  She never lost her sense of fun or curiosity, helping one daughter with her music lessons, supporting the other in her dance endeavors, and even learning to play the viola and perform in her neighborhood orchestra.  She valued the importance of stopping to smell the flowers, of spending time with loved ones, the quiet joy of taking her daughters for late-night root beer floats in the heat of NYC summers, of going for bike rides in East River Park “just because;” and she doted on her grandsons.  

Jeanne often referred to her family as “my favorite organisms.”  She instilled in her children her values and her love of learning.  She loved Heineken, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and cheese — the more fermented, the better.  

She will be dearly, dearly missed by her family and friends.  

She is survived by loving husband Porter R. Poindexter (New Castle, Indiana); daughters Portia J. Poindexter (Jackson Heights, New York), Carla Poindexter White (South Thomaston, Maine) and Claire Mills (San Francisco, California); brother and sister-in-law Howard and Marcia Stove (Indiana); three sons-in-law; two grandsons; and numerous nieces and nephews.  

A memorial celebration will be planned for a later date.

For those wishing to contribute, donations can be made in her memory to:

ï       Barnard College Jeanne S. Poindexter Memorial Fund by either:

1.      Credit card on-line at (please note Jeanne’s name as the “relationship to Barnard”); or

2.     Check made out to Barnard College, Attention: Lisa Yeh, 3009 Broadway, New York, NY 10027 (please note Jeanne’s name on the check)

ï       Covenant House New York  (please note Jeanne’s name on the check or on-line donation)