Marcy Lynn Gross, 64, a longtime federal official who helped draw attention to issues related to women's health, died June 20 of atrial fibrillation at her home in Bethesda.
As a senior adviser with the Department of Health and Human Services, Ms. Gross helped build the foundation for federal policies regarding sexual assault and other women's health issues. She also analyzed research and made recommendations on child abuse, Alzheimer's disease, alcohol abuse and health care for American Indians. After retiring from HHS in 2002, she continued to work as a consultant until her death.
Ms. Gross was the principal author of a report to Congress recommending that medical personnel become a front line of defense in treating victims of sexual assault and child abuse. By making health care workers aware of the signs of domestic violence when women sought treatment for their injuries, she believed the door could be opened to further counseling and assistance. Her analysis became a provision of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.
"The agency she worked with did some terrific work on women's health," said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families. "She was the opposite of your idea of a faceless bureaucrat. When she cared about a project, she knew how to make it happen."
Ms. Gross told friends that she became devoted to the cause of preventing violence against women in her twenties when she witnessed an attack on a woman from her apartment window. From a height of several stories, she poured a pot of hot coffee on the man's head, causing him to run off and saving the victim from further injury.
In later years, Ms. Gross served on a White House task force on health care reform, was a member of several international women's health efforts and helped cast light on the practice of female genital mutilation in developing countries.
At HHS, she was one of the authors of a report that became the basis of the federal Healthy Start Program, which began in 1991 and aims to reduce infant mortality and promote health care for children.
She helped direct funding toward research on chronic health problems of older women and helped identify a pattern of excessive mastectomies and hysterectomies being performed.
"She put words on paper," said Caroline Taplin, a former HHS colleague, "and they had an effect."
Ms. Gross also studied the long-term problems associated with silicone breast implants, and in April, she testified before an advisory panel of the Food and Drug Administration about their dangers.
"They were pulled from the market for good reason," she said at the hearing.
She noted that even the manufacturers of silicone implants admitted they had a limited lifespan, "which means, really, that all will fail and need to be surgically removed. We just don't know when."
Ms. Gross was born in Chicago and graduated in 1967 from the University of Maryland. She did graduate work at Johns Hopkins University and at the Washington campus of the University of Southern California.
She began her career as a research assistant on contract with the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity. She joined Health and Human Services in 1975 and held several positions as a program officer, analyst and adviser before becoming the senior women's health adviser at HHS's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
"She had the energy of a teenager but the wisdom of someone who had worked through struggles," said Debbie Lee, managing director of the Family Violence Prevention Fund, for whom Ms. Gross worked as a consultant and volunteer.
Her marriage to George Gross ended in divorce.
Survivors include her companion of more than 20 years, John Drabek of Bethesda; two children, Julian Gross of San Francisco and Alexandra Drees-Gross of Washington; three brothers; and two grandchildren.
Later this year, the National Research Center for Women & Families plans to name an internship in domestic violence and women's health in Ms. Gross's honor.