Dr. Myra Lappin, SFSU student health director, 57

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Two days after the death of noted writer Victor Perera, the Bay Area lost another zealous advocate of the study and celebration of Sephardic culture.

Dr. Myra Lappin, director of student health services at San Francisco State University, had credited Perera with spurring her to trace her roots and to learn Ladino. In 1999, she hosted a fund-raising benefit for Perera at her Portola Valley home after he suffered a debilitating stroke.

Lappin, an expert in the field of college health, died June 16 from ovarian cancer. She was 57.

At SFSU, "she was a very imaginative, creative director who was able to initiate a myriad of health programs," said Denise Fox, associate vice president for human resources at the university.

Several years ago, Lappin became so passionate about studying Sephardic culture that she began organizing local talks, dinners and other gatherings for Ivri-NASAWA, a Sephardic organization co-founded by Perera.

"Victor was a large part of opening my eyes to a culture that I belonged to but was largely unaware of," Lappin told the Bulletin in 1999.

Jordan Elgrably, the group's Los Angeles-based co-founder, said, "The more she delved into it, the more she identified with Sephardic culture."

Phyllis Kleid, another member, credited Lappin as "sort of singlehandedly" running the local chapter. Dinners at Lappin's home were warm gatherings replete with good discussions and traditional food from Spain, Turkey, Morocco and other Middle Eastern countries.

Lappin also had a considerable career: As head of SFSU's student health program for 16 years, she oversaw medical services for some 28,500 students.

"She was an amazing visionary in the field of adolescent health care and advocacy," said Dr. Vicky Prager, an SFSU physician who joined the 60-member staff in 1992 specifically "so I could work with her. She was very highly respected."

Under Lappin's guidance, the university created a department of preventive medicine that was "peerless," Prager said. The program offers students presentations and talks on everything from immunizations to sexually transmitted diseases and assertiveness training.

"She had a real holistic approach to health care," said Prager.

Lappin also created a continuing education program for health workers, which held teleconferences at 20 U.S. campuses on a series of medical issues affecting college students.

Lappin was "undaunted" by obstacles, according to Prager. "She was really able to envision a better world and could make it happen."

Growing up in Oklahoma City, Lappin showed an early affinity for the practice of medicine. Her grandfather, Cazriel Fishman, was a Chicago-trained physician who moved to Oklahoma in 1911.

"I remember as a child, my grandfather let my sister look at anything she wanted under his microscope. She was hooked," said Lappin's sister, Jamie Emmer of Palo Alto.

The Lappin family was active in Oklahoma's small Jewish community, and Lappin's father, Israel, once served as president of their local synagogue.

"As far as I know, she was one of the first females to ask for a bat mitzvah in Oklahoma," Emmer said. When that request was denied, "she was very disappointed."

Eager to help people in need, Lappin got a master's degree in public health from Yale University and went on to work in Ethiopia and Colombia. "I think she wanted to get into action," her sister said.

Lappin subsequently got her medical degree from the University of Texas and received postdoctoral training in pediatrics and adolescent medicine from UCSF.

Before working at SFSU, Lappin served as associate director of the student health program at Cal State Hayward.

Emmer said her sister "devoted her entire life to taking care of people."

After Lappin's husband, Mickey Gotskind, suffered a stroke on Father's Day six years ago, Lappin "completely charted his rehabilitation on her own," Emmer said. "It was extraordinary."

Prager said Lappin "would go the extra mile for her loved ones, colleagues and patients. No matter what, she would go to bat for her staff and patients."

In addition to her husband and sister, Lappin is survived by her children, Aaron and Toby, nephews and many cousins.

Donations may be made to Temple Beth Jacob, 1550 Alameda de las Pulgas, Redwood City, CA 94061, or a favorite charity.