Helen J. Iliff: A Life Marked by Music and Medicine

At Johns Hopkins she found a place to nurture both. Over more than a half century, Mrs. Iliff, who also goes by Dr. Helen Ossofsky, earned an M.D. from the School of Medicine and then trained under Dr. Helen B. Taussig, the founder of pediatric cardiology, later developing relationships with budding musicians training at the Peabody Institute and attending scores of concerts and performances there.

Mrs. Iliff recently decided to give back to the place that, she says, "shaped [her] life," by establishing a charitable remainder trust that supports a professorship named for her late husband, Charles E. Iliff III, who was renowned for his work in ocular surgery at the Wilmer Eye Institute. The professorship is now held by Charles Iliff's son from his first marriage, Nicholas T. Iliff. She also made a bequest intention that will add additional funds to the Helen J. Iliff Endowed Scholarship, awarded annually to a conservatory piano student.

"I wasn't born wealthy and I don't have millions and millions of dollars, but I feel that if I can help students and help Johns Hopkins attract highly motivated and skilled people to the Peabody Institute or to Wilmer, that would be a legacy for me," says Mrs. Iliff, a former president of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Johns Hopkins University Alumni Association.

Born into "a musical family," Mrs. Iliff was a coloratura soprano who majored in music in college, then joined the American Red Cross after the United States entered World War II. After spending five years working as a social worker in military hospitals across the United States, she was inspired to become a doctor and was admitted to Johns Hopkins. She earned an M.D. in 1954 and later trained in Taussig's clinic.

There she witnessed the evolution of the "Blue Baby Operation," the procedure pioneered at Johns Hopkins by Dr. Taussig, Dr. Alfred Blalock, and laboratory technician Vivien Thomas to correct the heart defect that suffocates infants and which paved the way for modern procedures such as coronary bypass surgery.

"I had some of the greatest teachers," says Mrs. Iliff, a retired pediatric cardiologist. "At that time Johns Hopkins was just an exciting place to be."

Even after heading to Washington, D.C., to join the faculty of Georgetown University and open her own practice, Mrs. Iliff never strayed too far from that "exciting place." She remains involved at Peabody, attending concerts, particularly performances by students who have received the scholarship named for her.

"All of my experiences at Johns Hopkins have been intertwined and rewarding in so many ways—and I've learned so much from my teachers, my colleagues, and the students at Peabody," she says. "The opportunity to give back, even just a bit, has given me the most meaningful reward."

Gift vehicles used: Bequest and Charitable remainder unitrust 

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