Gwendolyn Laidlaw (M.A. ’39) cared very passionately about certain things. The short list, according to her friend, Birgie McLendon, included the Canadian maritime province of New Brunswick, where Laidlaw was born and raised; her marriage to Norman Laidlaw, a Columbia University-educated academic and author; education, particularly in the field of health (she worked in nursing and nutrition counseling at metropolitan-area medical and healthcare facilities); and Teachers College, where she earned her degree in Family and Community Education.

Laidlaw, who died at the age of 95, memorialized all of those passions with a single magnanimous gesture: A gift of more than $900,000 to establish an endowed scholarship fund to assist students in the field of nutrition, particularly those from Canada.

“This is an invaluable gift that will benefit students for years to come,” said Isobel R. Contento, Mary Swartz Rose Professor of Nutrition & Education and Director of the Program in Nutrition.

The first beneficiary of Laidlaw’s gift, Ph.D. candidate Yara Gholmie, whose dissertation is exploring whether diets for those with gluten intolerance could put teens at greater risk for developing other eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia.

Gholmie’s research dovetails with the work of Randi Wolf, Associate Professor of Human Nutrition on the Ella McCollum Vahlteich Endowment, on quality-of-life issues that confront adults and young adults who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by the ingestion of a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

Randi Wolf

MENTOR AND COLLABORATOR Nutrition faculty member Randi Wolf, who works with Gholmie, is exploring quality-of-life issues that diet can impose on patients with celiac disease.

“I am very grateful to work with Isobel, Randi and the Nutrition Department,” said Gholmie. “This grant has opened up a lot of doors for me.”  

Like Laidlaw, Gholmie was born in Canada. She grew up in the Middle East after her father’s job took the family to Saudi Arabia. She returned to Canada following high school to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees from McGill University in Montreal.

An interest in behavioral nutrition brought Gholmie – a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist – to Teachers College.

I am very grateful to work with Isobel, Randi and the Program in Nutrition. This grant has opened up a lot of doors for me.” 

 —Yara Gholmie

Laidlaw, too, lived a somewhat peripatetic life. Born Mary Irene Gwendolyn Hicks in the New Brunswick town of Sackville, she taught briefly at TC after earning her Master’s Degree in 1939, according to McLendon, whose husband, Jack, a San Diego attorney, served as executor of the Laidlaw estate. She came back to New York after marrying Norman, a fellow Canadian, following his service in World War II, and the couple re-located to Florida and then San Diego in retirement.

Gwen Laidlaw embraced the lessons of her TC education until the end of her life.

“There was nothing about nutrition she didn’t know,” said McLendon. 

Eight decades later, Yara Gholmie is following in those footsteps.

“Yara couldn’t do the work she is doing without such a gift helping to support her dissertation,” said Wolf.