Frances Oldham Kelsey, 101, a medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration in Washington who raised concerns about thalidomide before its effects were conclusively known, died Friday.

For a critical 19-month period, she fastidiously blocked the drug’s approval while pharmaceutical company officials maligned her as a bureaucratic nit-picker.

In the annals of modern medicine, it was a horror story of international scope: thousands of babies dead in the womb and at least 10,000 others in 46 countries born with severe deformities.

The cause, scientists discovered by late 1961, was thalidomide, a drug that, during four years of commercial sales, was marketed to pregnant women as a miracle cure for morning sickness and insomnia.

Kelsey, a physician and pharmacologist, did not single-handedly uncover thalidomide’s hazards. Clinical investigators and health authorities around the world played an important role, as did several of her FDA peers. But because of her tenacity and clinical training, she became the central figure in the episode.

The global thalidomide calamity precipitated legislation signed by President John F. Kennedy in October 1962 that substantially strengthened the FDA’s authority over drug testing.

As the new law was being hammered out, Kennedy rushed to include Kelsey in a previously scheduled White House ceremony honoring influential civil servants, including an architect of NASA’s spaceflight program.

“They tied her to the moonshot in showing what government scientists were capable of,” said Stephen Fried, a journalist who investigated the drug industry in the book “Bitter Pills.” “It was an act of incredible daring and bravery to say we need to wait longer before we expose the American people to this drug.”

In 1963, Kelsey was named chief of the FDA’s investigational drug branch. Four years later was named director of the new Office of Scientific Investigations, a position she held until 1995.

She spent another decade, until her retirement at 90, working on at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.


George Cole, 90, a British actor who, as the young Scrooge, foreshadowed Alastair Sim’s aging, coldhearted moneylender in a celebrated film version of “A Christmas Carol” and who later developed a following as British television’s favorite rogue, died Wednesday in Reading, England.

Abandoned as a baby, Cole was reared by adoptive parents and mentored by Sim, a prolific stage and screen star. He was barely 26 when he played the young, forsaken alter ego of Sim’s Ebenezer Scrooge in Brian Desmond Hurst’s grim 1951 rendition of the Charles Dickens classic, a film that remains a Christmas-season staple on television.

The budding actor, who, with Sim’s coaching, shed his Cockney accent, reacquired it as Flash Harry in a series of films set in a fictional boarding school called St. Trinian’s. The films, which were released over a decade beginning in 1954, also featured Sim, in drag, as the headmistress.

Cole achieved his greatest fame as Arthur Daley, the dodgy, cigar-smoking used-car salesman and con man in “Minder,” an ITV series that ran for more than 100 episodes from 1979 to 1994.

George Edward Cole was born in London on April 22, 1925. His birth mother abandoned him when he was 10 days old. He was adopted by George and Florence Cole, who lived in public housing in South London. He was a laborer; she cleaned houses. They also were amateur musicians, and their son performed with them in music halls.

“I was paid in chocolates!” the younger Cole recalled in his autobiography. “I think that was when I decided I wanted to go on the stage.”

His autobiography, written with Brian Hawkins and published in 2013, is titled “The World Was My Lobster.”

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