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Rita Krolak Remembered for Compassion, Love of Family

Car accident also claims husband, son

Rita Krolak

Rita Krolak’s “generous and kind heart, her smile, her support and care when you needed it most” are what her colleagues remember most. Photos courtesy of Slone Epidemiology Center

Ask anyone who knew her to describe Rita Krolak and the first adjective they use is very likely to be “compassionate.” It was a quality that the former pediatric nurse practitioner demonstrated every day in her work as a research coordinator at the Slone Epidemiology Center.

Krolak, 70, her husband, Patrick D. Krolak, a computer science professor at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and their son, Patrick M. Krolak, were killed on August 25 in Duane, N.Y., when an SUV crossed into oncoming traffic and hit their vehicle head-on. She is survived by two children and three grandchildren.

At the Slone center, Krolak worked on the Pregnancy Health Interview Study, which focuses on the risks and safety of medications in pregnancy in relation to birth defects.

“Rita was always able to recognize how a mother who had borne a malformed child might feel,” recalls Allen Mitchell, a School of Public Health professor of epidemiology and center director. “She knew how the mother might respond positively or negatively to the wording or tone of a given question, and how we might ask questions in ways that were both sensitive and scientifically productive.”

Known for her gentle humor, her love of music and dance, and her penchant for wearing vivid socks (usually without shoes) Krolak, joined Slone in 1989 as a nurse interviewer, working on a study of risk factors for heart attack in men under 55. Friends say she enjoyed recalling how, growing up in Illinois, she would sneak away from her house and bicycle miles into the countryside, where she’d slip over a farmer’s fence and ride his horses bareback—with neither her parents nor the farmer any the wiser.

Krolak earned a diploma in nursing from DePaul Hospital School of Nursing in St. Louis, and later a BA in English from Washington University in St. Louis. She earned a master’s degree in the family nurse practitioner program at Vanderbilt University, with a specialty in pediatrics.

Boston University Slone Epidemiology Center, Pregnancy Health Interview Study

Rita Krolak (second row, fourth from left) with staff members of the Pregnancy Health Interview Study at the Slone Epidemiology Center.

In interviews and emails, Krolak’s colleagues recall a woman always willing to take time from her busy schedule to offer guidance or a word of comfort. “What was most important was Rita’s generous and kind heart, her smile, her support and care when you needed it most,” says coworker Nastia Dynkin, center database manager.

“When you look at the photo of our staff, you see Rita right smack in the middle of the crowd,” says Dawn Jacobs, a project coordinator at Slone. “Her placement represents her role and importance to our team. She was the hub of our very large and complex study.”

A devoted mother and grandmother, Krolak’s love of family was evident not only in the photos that adorned her office, but in the stories she told. “She spoke so highly of her family, and the love she had for them was easily evidenced by the smile on her face,” says Julia Venanzi, a research assistant at the center. “She helped all of us ‘newbies’ navigate our way through the maze of school years, teen years, married years, and grandmother years.”

Krolak was also an indispensable mentor to younger colleagues. “Rita was everyone’s go-to person,” notes Clare Coughlin, a Slone nurse interviewer. Her expertise “included proper research methodology, complex medical diagnoses, medication components, manipulating complicated computer programs, and perhaps most important, how to talk with mothers who’ve had babies with birth defects in a thoughtful and compassionate manner,” Coughlin says. “Her meaningful work will have a lasting impact on the health of mothers and newborns for many years to come.”

Memorial services for the Krolaks have already been held. A memorial fund has been set up in Rita Krolak’s name at the Slone Epidemiology Center. Gifts can be made to: Rita Krolak Memorial Fund, Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University, 1010 Commonwealth Avenue, 4th floor, Boston, MA 02215.

john o'rourke, editor, bu today
John O’Rourke

John O’Rourke can be reached at orourkej@bu.edu.

One Comment on Rita Krolak Remembered for Compassion, Love of Family

  • TeeCee Dooling Chandler on 09.07.2012 at 10:01 am

    A beautiful story about a beautiful lady. Thank you,
    A friend for more than 60 years.

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