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Marilyn Brachman Hoffman

Marilyn Brachman Hoffman (1930-2013) built a legacy as an independent organizer of research on the health effects of environmental chemicals.

As a “citizen-scientist,” Mrs. Hoffman anonymously funded strategic research studies, and supported a wide variety of activities in science, medicine and education. An accomplished pianist, Mrs. Hoffman fostered the development of the performing arts in Boston, where she lived. Longtime associate Jean A. Lemieux called her “sophisticated, intellectual and spunky.”

Later in life, she focused on overturning skepticism about a chemically-related disorder that later would be recognized as TILT, or Toxicant-induced Loss of Tolerance. Mrs. Hoffman suffered from TILT for years. Scientists and physicians dismissed her symptoms and the notion she had a physical illness. In regret, she once remarked, “What the eye doesn’t see, the mind often doesn’t believe.”

Speaking to the Boston Globe in 2006, Mrs. Hoffman described years of suffering: “It’s not just the physical hurt, but the psychological, emotional impact that family members, friends, people you work with, how they treat you. They’re afraid of something they don’t understand.” Due to her condition, Mrs. Hoffman could find no place to live that was free of the chemicals that made her sick. She rotated living at different hotels in Boston and Fort Worth, and spent much time trying to avoid chemicals associated with paints, new furnishings, cleaning products and airborne scents.

TILT was first documented in 1998 in the groundbreaking book Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes by researchers Nicholas A. Ashford and Claudia S. Miller. Learning of the authors’ work, Mrs. Hoffman adopted the term TILT to describe her illness and later left funds in her will for continued TILT research.

Born in Texas, Mrs. Hoffman was the daughter of energy-company executive Solomon Brachman. Her mother, Etta Brachman, also a pianist, led community and philanthropic activities in the family’s hometown of Fort Worth. Mrs. Hoffman received her bachelor’s degree in art history from Wellesley in 1952 and her master’s in early childhood development from Columbia Teacher’s College in 1954. She was a doctoral student in experimental psychology at Harvard University from 1955-58.

Mrs. Hoffman’s interest in neuroscience, particularly cognition and creativity, led her to focus on the dangers to public health caused by exposure to environmental toxicants. She worked to bring together scientists, physicians and others to promote public awareness and strategies for prevention. She served as a member of the Environmental Health Council and Leadership Council at Harvard’s School of Public Health and the Science Advisory Committee and the Committee for the Advancement of Sciences at Wellesley. She was a member of the Council for the Arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for about 20 years, and was a longtime patron of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In 2015, the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation board elected to fund a comprehensive program of research in the homes of chemically susceptible people through the Department of Family and Community Medicine at UT Health San Antonio. Over a three-year period, the funds will support a coordinated approach to outreach, education and research on TILT.