Loretta Dittrich Spotila began her career as a nutritionist at nursing homes in Buffalo, N.Y., and then taught nutrition at the State University of New York in Buffalo.
But she wanted to do more, said her husband, James R. Spotila, Betz chair and professor of environmental science at Drexel University.
"She was trying to find the mechanisms of how disease works, and she thought molecular biology would give her a handle to look for those mechanisms," said her husband, whom she married in 1967.
"It took her a number of years, raising the children at the same time," he said, but in 1985 - the year she turned 40 - she earned her doctorate in molecular biology at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York.
On Wednesday, Jan. 21, Dr. Spotila, 69, of Haddonfield, a molecular researcher at Drexel University and Thomas Jefferson University, died of complications from breast cancer.
Born in Cleveland, Dr. Spotila graduated from Magnificat High School in Rocky River, Ohio, and earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Dayton in 1966 and a master's at Ohio State University in 1968, both in nutrition.
After earning her doctorate, she was a research associate at the Buffalo university from 1985 to 1988, when the family moved to the Philadelphia region.
Dr. Spotila worked as a research associate and then assistant professor at Thomas Jefferson University from 1988 to 1999, before becoming a research assistant professor at Drexel until 2001, her husband said.
"She made important discoveries about the genetic basis of osteoporosis and collagen diseases," he said, working with research grants at both universities.
After recovering from her first bout with breast cancer, her husband said, "she decided it would be better not to work in the lab anymore."
So she opened a one-woman firm in her home, Science Scribe, because "she became more interested in helping people write - medical doctors and other scientists," for whom she prepared material such as scientific articles for medical journals.
She closed it in 2013, after cancer returned.
Dr. Spotila was also the manager of the Leatherback Trust, a conservation organization focused on leatherback sea turtles in Costa Rica.
Her husband had founded the trust in 2000 with Frank Paladino, chair of the biology department at Purdue University.
"She was a lovely woman," Paladino said.
"She generously opened her home to numerous students from around the world, and colleagues," he said. "Her quiet, steady personality helped to make everyone welcome."
Besides her husband, Dr. Spotila is survived by son James A., daughter Jennifer, a brother, and a granddaughter.
A visitation was set from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, Jan. 26, at Kain-Murphy Funeral Services, 15 West End Ave., Haddonfield, and from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27, at Christ the King Church, 220 Windsor Ave., Haddonfield, before an 11 a.m. Funeral Mass there. Interment is to be at Haddonfield Baptist Cemetery.
Donations may be sent to www.leatherback.org.
Condolences may be offered to the family at http://kainmurphy.com.