Brenda D. Gavin, 67, of Philadelphia, a nationally known venture capitalist and a business leader in Philadelphia, died Thursday, March 17, of a stroke at Pennsylvania Hospital.
In life, Dr. Gavin nurtured many new life-science companies and mentored numerous colleagues; in death, she became a gift-of-life donor for four patients in need of transplant organs.
One of the earliest women to become schooled and active in health-sciences venture capital investing, Dr. Gavin knew how to connect the right scientists and physicians to start successful new companies, her family said.
Once the new firms were up and running, she stayed involved as a board member and investor.
Her most recent creation in 2002 was Quaker Partners, a $700 million venture capital firm in Philadelphia that she cofounded with P. Sherrill Neff.
"She was great, she always had a lot of upbeat energy," Neff said. "She was indefatigable. She worked harder than the CEOs of the companies she invested in."
Dr. Gavin was still working with the firm, which specializes in health care and biotechnology development, at the time of her death.
"While recognized for her scientific understanding and business acumen, she is best known for the extraordinary breadth of her relationships and connections in the science and business worlds," said her husband, Laurence J. Gavin.
Philadelphia filmmaker Sam Katz, who worked with Dr. Gavin on civic projects, said: "She was a powerhouse in the biotech world and a great human being. I just thought the world of her."
Dr. Gavin was born in Tahlequah, Okla., the capital of the Cherokee Nation. She traced her lineage to the Native American tribe.
She grew up in Tulsa, Okla., and Springfield, Mo., where her father, William J. Davidson, operated a tire store and her mother, Erma Davidson Trogdon, was a telephone operator.
She moved to Philadelphia in 1970 after completing a bachelor of science degree at Baylor University. She worked as a University of Pennsylvania research assistant and then for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
Her first husband was Gregory Politi. The two divorced in 1977, after she returned to Missouri to complete a doctor of veterinary medicine degree at the University of Missouri.
Dr. Gavin then joined the Epidemic Intelligence Service program at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. In 1977, the CDC was intent on understanding Legionnaires' disease, which had broken out the year before at the Bellevue Stratford in Philadelphia, and Dr. Gavin was part of that effort.
In May 1978, she led a CDC team investigating another outbreak of the disease, at the Indiana University Memorial Union in Bloomington. The team traced the source of the illness to a cooling tower.
In 1979, she joined her future husband, an emergency-medicine physician, in Texas, where she earned a master of business administration degree at the University of Texas at San Antonio. While studying there, she became interested in the venture capital industry.
In 1981 she joined International Minerals & Chemical Corp. of Terre Haute, Ind., as manager of new product development. Four years later, she moved to Chicago to manage the firm's venture capital investments and business development.
Dr. Gavin returned to Philadelphia in 1986 as director of business development for SmithKline Beecham Animal Health Products.
In 1989, she was named vice president of S.R. One Ltd., a bioscience venture capital subsidiary of GlaxoSmithKline. She served as president of the subsidiary from 1999 to 2002.
In 2000, Dr. Gavin also became a general partner in EuclidSR Partners Corp., a $250 million New York- and Pennsylvania-based venture capital fund focused on life sciences and information technology. She ended her association with GlaxoSmithKline and Euclid when she started Quaker Partners.
Dr. Gavin was honored with the 2002 Greater Philadelphia Venture Group Blair Thompson Lifetime Venture Award, 2005 Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs Iris Newman Award, 2009 Early Stage East Sal Buccieri Venture Impact Award, and 2010 Pennsylvania Biotechnology Association Hubert J.P. Schoemaker Leadership Award.
Dr. Gavin married Laurence Gavin, whom she met at the CDC, at home in Philadelphia on a 1987 spring day so warm that the guests wore shorts. The couple had one son, Zachary William Gavin.
Dr. Gavin's conversation and cooking enlivened many a social gathering. In 2014, she organized an open house for her Society Hill neighborhood, and she continued it last fall.
She was a member of the Overbrook Presbyterian Church for 30 years, and was a regular at a book club composed of colleagues and friends.
Laurence Gavin described his wife as "the epicenter of our home."
"She was lively, always engaged, and free with her opinions, but also welcoming of others," he said. "She loved to mentor other people. She had very wide arms, and everyone felt welcome in them."
Besides her husband, mother, and son, she is survived by a sister, six nieces and nephews, and her former husband.
Memorial services were Saturday, March 26.