Ellen Askari of Falmouth was a skilled scientist, but she never felt that meant she needed to adopt the stereotypical stuffy, aloof persona.

She was an accomplished immunologist, but made sure to wear skeleton earrings on Halloween, her son, Brent Askari said.

A shirt adorned with glitter, or even one with a light she could switch on, became favored clothes. A treasured family photograph features her with a bird perched on her eyeglasses.

“She was very eccentric,” Brent Askari said. “She just followed her own path.”

For Mrs. Askari – who died on March 12 at age 71, less than two months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer – that included her choice of career.

Mrs. Askari’s father was a neurosurgeon and chief of staff at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Brent Askari said, so there was a family background in the sciences. Still, Mrs. Askari’s decision to go into science was a bit unusual for a woman of her generation. “She wasn’t a pioneer,” her son said. “But I definitely remember her saying that she did feel like she was one of only a few women going into that field.”


Mrs. Askari attended medical school, but switched to immunology, the field in which she earned a doctorate from Northeastern University.

In 1968, she married Hossein Askari, an economics professor, and then took time off to raise their children as her husband’s teaching took them around the country.

The couple divorced in 1987 and a couple of years later, Mrs. Askari decided she would move back to Maine, where she had been raised in Falmouth and then Cape Elizabeth and where she graduated from Waynflete School.

“She loved Maine and just decided she wanted to live there (again),” Brent Askari said, adding that his family usually spent summers in the state when he and his sister, Isabella, were young.

Askari said his mother dove into teaching students about anatomy, physiology, histology and microbiology at the University of Southern Maine, the University of New England and Southern Maine Community College.

She also volunteered for the AIDS Buddy program, which paired her with people infected with HIV, and her devotion to the program won her recognition with a Six Who Care award from WCSH-TV.


“That was a big thing with her,” Brent Askari said. “It was just sort of becoming a friend and helper for people living with HIV. It may have been her immunology background that first drew her to it, but then it became the human bonding.”

Brent Askari said his mother was proud of the students she taught, particularly those who went into the medical field.

She had health problems in recent years before the diagnosis of cancer, he said, and “was always running into her former students. Up until the day she died, at the hospice there were nurses there who said, ‘Oh, I took your class.’ I know that gave her a tremendous amount of pride.”

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

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