Members of the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) community gathered in the Harkness Ballroom on January 5 for a portrait unveiling in remembrance of Marjorie “Margi” Rosenthal, MD ’95, MPH (1967-2020).
Rosenthal was an associate professor of pediatrics at the school who dedicated her career to addressing health inequities and improving the lives of children and families from underserved communities. Following her death from colon cancer in December 2020, she received the Charles W. Bohmfalk Award posthumously at YSM’s 2021 commencement—one of the institution’s most prestigious honors.
Now, in commemoration of her accomplishments, her joyful spirit lives on through her new portrait, created by local New Haven artist Eric March. The vibrantly colored scene depicts a laughing Rosenthal in a swimming pool surrounded by playing children. In its new home in the Harkness Ballroom, it offers a glimpse to passing students, faculty, and staff of her unwavering compassion for others.
“In the process [of selecting an artist], it became clear that a traditional portrait was not what we were looking for,” said Anna Reisman, MD, professor of medicine (general medicine) and director of the Program for Humanities in Medicine. “We wanted something that would capture the way Margi approached her life, her work, her family, friends, her beloved city—it was always about community, connections.”
A prolific career dedicated to addressing health inequity
Rosenthal grew up in Newton, Massachusetts. She received her BA in social studies from Harvard University and went on to medical school at YSM. Following her residency at Johns Hopkins University and completion of her MPH at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she returned to Yale in 2004 to finish her fellowship training.
Throughout her career, Rosenthal studied barriers to achieving good health for underserved families. Her research and clinical work “helped vulnerable children thrive,” Reisman said at the unveiling. In honor of her efforts, she received the Elm City Ivy Award in 2016, which recognized her “as tireless in her commitment to improving the lives of New Haven’s children and families, as she is inspiring to a new generation of potential leaders to give back to New Haven.”
Beyond her research, she also served as co-director of YSM’s National Clinician Scholars Program, an interprofessional fellowship program for training the next generation of physicians and doctorally trained nurses to become leaders in improving health care in the United States. “Through this role, Margi had a major influence on rethinking the way research is conducted here at Yale through creating meaningful partnerships between Yale and New Haven-based organizations and stakeholders,” Reisman said.
Rosenthal had a passion for mentorship and inspired others with her commitment to justice and health equity. “Margi was a master mentor,” said Benjamin Oldfield, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine. “She was able to draw inspiration and action from unlikely places that sometimes were surprising to us.”
She also was a talented and prolific writer. Her personal essays and op-eds can be read in JAMA, Annals of Internal Medicine, and JAMA Oncology, as well as in the New York Times. “Margi’s essays are powerful, beautiful, witty, deep, and suffused with a certain joy in life,” says Reisman. “If you haven’t read her essays, read them. If you have read them all, read them again!”
Joyful spirit lives on through new portrait
March never met Rosenthal, but “it was really important for me to get to know her as much as I could,” he said. He paid close attention to the photos and stories that her colleagues and loved ones shared with him, and he carefully read her essays. Her exuberant personality and passion for helping others quickly became clear.
The portrait is full of references to things Rosenthal loved—including swimming, biking, her dog Wally, and chocolate chip cookies. Inside and around the pool are children playing—children’s laughter was her favorite sound. The portrait’s bright, vibrant colors evoke her joyful outlook on life.
The circular swimming pool also symbolizes the interconnected communities she helped foster, said March. In alignment with this theme, every person in the portrait is touching someone else. “I hope this piece will hold the memories and will bring a bit of Margi and her love of life and caring for others to those who have never met her,” he said. “Working on this piece has certainly done that for me.”
Rosenthal’s daughters, Maya and Elina Muraka, unveiled the finished portrait and concluded the evening with a roast. “My mom was many things; however, she was not a singer, dancer, nor a chef,” Elina laughed before telling a story about a New York Times cooking recipe mishap in which her mom accidentally used powdered sugar instead of flour. Rosenthal sang to the soundtrack of the play Hamilton frequently—albeit poorly. The sisters also demonstrated some of their mother’s favorite dance moves.
“While she wasn’t much of these things, one of the things I have always loved about my mother was that she did not let being bad at something stop her from having a good time,” said Maya. “A lot of the things people will talk about my mother being good at tonight were skills that she developed, not that she was born with. Her life was an embodiment of the phrase, ‘don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.’”