When Chris Elfring ’77 earned her B.A. in a major she had created that blended science and writing, it was still a time when parents were asking their daughters, will you be a teacher or a nurse? “People didn’t think of women as being in the sciences and having important careers. And here was Chris, creating her own major that combined two things she loved. She was really proud of that,” recalls her spouse of 33 years, Ann Miles. “She was very good at knowing herself and where she wanted to go.”
After Denison, Chris earned an M.S. in agricultural journalism from the University of Wisconsin. That specialization landed her a prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science fellowship, which took her to Washington D.C. She spent several summers working as a park ranger in Acadia National Park in Maine and then began her long career with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. She served as director of the board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate and the Polar Research board before taking the helm of the Gulf Research Program. Among many other honors and awards, she has a geological feature in Antarctica named in honor of her polar science work: Elfring Peak.
She had a passion for understanding the policy dimensions of science and communicating the impacts of science to lay audiences, and she was a natural leader. “Chris was very good at bringing people together, figuring out how to get people to think hard about issues, listening to all sides, and then moving toward consensus,” says Miles.
Her personal life, like her professional, frequently involved the outdoors. She met her wife through Washington Women Outdoors, an organization that empowers women to explore the outdoors, and loved to hike, backpack, cross-country ski, rock climb, and kayak. She and Miles bought a cabin near the Dolly Sods Wilderness area of West Virginia, where Chris’s unceasing curiosity and love for learning led her to take classes to become a master naturalist.
She was introverted, funny, and incredibly humble about her accomplishments. Says Mary Boyer Emrich ’77, “Chris was very accomplished and very modest. It really was not until after her death that I learned more of her achievements.”
Chris died following a brief illness with brain cancer on June 7, 2018, at age 62. Survivors include her spouse, Ann Flather Miles; Ann’s children, Julie Miles, Jen McDonald, and David Miles; eight grandchildren; her brothers, Gary and David Elfring; and her goddaughter.