In memoriam: Christine Kaestle, professor of human development and family science
Christine Elizabeth “Chris” Kaestle, a professor of human development and family science at Virginia Tech, died on July 16, 2020. She was 48.
Kaestle grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, and after graduating from Madison West High School in 1990, she attended Columbia University for one semester, then transferred to Grinnell College, from which she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1994.
From 1995 to 2001, Kaestle lived with her life companion Louis Madsen in Pasadena and West Los Angeles, where Kaestle served as an environmental consultant for ICF Kaiser Inc. and the Environmental Protection Agency. She then taught seventh-grade science at Eliot Middle School in Pasadena while pursuing a master’s degree in teaching at Claremont University.
In 1999, Kaestle discovered the public health field and realized she could make a living studying human sexuality, a deep interest since her early teens. Two years later she earned her master’s degree in community health sciences from what is now the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. She then completed a doctorate with Professor Carolyn Halpern in maternal and child health at what is now the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, earning the university’s highest accolades, in 2006.
That same year Kaestle joined the Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences as an assistant professor in human development, focusing her teaching and research on human sexuality and human equity. She also became a faculty affiliate in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program.
“Chris developed new knowledge and synthesized new perspectives and arguments to combat old stereotypes, to fight physical and mental disease, and to improve happy and healthy sexuality,” said Madsen. “She believed that sexuality is among the most pivotal and driving core human functions, and yet contributes to personal discomfort and shame, extreme societal power differentials, and outright violence and oppression for literally billions of our planet’s inhabitants.”
Kaestle received tenure as an associate professor in 2012 and expanded her university involvement by becoming a member of the Faculty of Health Sciences and adding a second affiliation with the Master of Public Health Program in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
From 2013 to 2014, she was a visiting scholar in psychology and prevention sciences at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia.
Kaestle returned to Virginia Tech in 2014, and three years later became the director of the Human Sexuality Studies Graduate Certificate Program. In 2019, she was promoted to professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science.
“Chris made inspired and original contributions to our society with her scholarly research, while deeply impacting her students, being both a caring but honest mentor, and a thoughtful and devoted classroom teacher,” Madsen said. “She frequently and fearlessly challenged all around her to think more deeply, to acknowledge their privilege, and to work toward improving living conditions for all.”
Kaestle served as a principal investigator or co-principal investigator on several large externally and internally funded projects. Her honors included an Excellence in Research and Creative Scholarship Award and a Certificate of Teaching Excellence Award from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.
She became friends with Louis Madsen starting in 1988, when the two played together in the Madison West High School jazz band. Their first date in 1990 involved bowling with friends and cruising around in a blue 1968 Dodge Dart after a rehearsal of “Guys and Dolls,” for which they both played in the pit orchestra.
“She deeply loved music in all forms, listening voraciously, playing valve trombone and euphonium in concert and jazz bands, and singing in choruses,” said Madsen, who became her husband in 1995 and eventually a chemistry professor at Virginia Tech.
In addition to Madsen, with whom she lived together for more than 30 years, Kaestle is survived by her mother, Elizabeth MacKenzie of New York City and South Egremont, Massachusetts; her father, Carl Kaestle of Providence, Rhode Island, and North Egremont, Massachusetts; her sister, Frederika Kaestle of Bloomington, Indiana; her brother-in-law, Lee Kruschke; her stepfather; William Rowen; and many aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws.
“Her dearest wish was to decrease the violence in the lives of people and beings everywhere,” Madsen said, “and she applied her immense intellect and logic skills as well as her sensitive communication skills to this goal every day. She was an exceptional biological statistical and social scientist, combining diverse quantitative and qualitative concepts into her work and her life perspectives.”
At the center of that deep academic rigor was a passion for helping people.
“Chris always met people with a strong focus and a welcoming demeanor,” said Madsen. “Her huge smile inspired warmth, comfort, and friendship. These qualities enabled her to connect in meaningful way with people, either for the first time or after many years of knowing her. She always considered a person’s life situation or opinions, and nearly all who interacted with her incorporated a new idea or felt better about themselves.”
Kaestle’s full obituary is available here.