The Case Western Reserve University community is mourning the loss of staff member Denise Fuzzell, who died Oct. 28 following a battle with gallbladder cancer. She was 69.
Since 2013, Fuzzell worked as a coordinator in the School of Medicine’s Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences, where she enrolled Amish individuals into various studies relating to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and successful aging.
A resident for most of her life of Holmes County—home to one of the largest Amish settlements in the world—Fuzzell was keenly aware and sensitive to the community’s way of living.
“It was crucial that we have someone who knew the Amish well and lived in the same area,” said Jonathan Haines, department chair, who worked with Fuzzell for 20 years both at Case Western Reserve and, prior, at Vanderbilt University. “Denise was perfect for this, often serving as the bridge between CWRU research and the Amish communities.”
Fuzzell’s work involved going door to door to speak with potential participants, explaining the department’s studies and enrolling individuals who agreed to participate.
“She would also perform the various tests—mostly questionnaires and simple physical activities—and collect blood for our assays,” Haines added. “Needless to say, keeping track of the family relationships was also a large part of her work.”
Fuzzell was full of stories of working with the Amish, including attending their weddings and funerals. She often talked about the many pies and cakes she was gifted over the years, exemplifying what an “absolute joy” she was to work with, according to Haines.
“She brought joy to us all, and her true love and respect for the Amish made [our research] so much more personal and real,” Haines added. “We will miss her.”
Fuzzell’s joy carried over to her personal life and fueled many of her passions. She was a self-described health food advocate, a former gymnast and an avid hiker, and, before her cancer diagnosis in October of last year, Fuzzell even taught Tai Chi.
Fuzzell had seven daughters and five grandchildren, and was known as a devoted wife and friend who “created a warm and loving home.” She also was an avid reader and storyteller who enjoyed knitting and sewing.
“She loved to garden and had the most beautiful gardens. And she was a great cook—with vegetables from her garden,” said Renee Laux, her manager at CWRU. “Some of my favorite recipes are from her.”
When Laux last visited her in August, Fuzzell gave her seeds from her garden, which she plans on planting in the spring.
“She was very kind—she had a bunch of phrases like ‘tempest in a teapot’ that she [said] frequently and made me laugh when things would be frustrating,” Laux added. “She was the person I would go to when I needed advice and just someone to talk to—not only about work but about children and life in general. She wasn’t just a colleague, she was a friend. I will miss her very much.”
In addition to her father and husband, Fuzzell is survived by her children, grandchildren and an extensive circle of family and friends. A private interment will take place, and a celebration of life will be announced at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where Fuzzell received treatment, in her memory to support cancer research and patient care. Gifts should be sent to: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, P.O. Box 849168, Boston, MA 02284; or donated via dana-farber.org/gift.