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Dr. Helen Guillette Vassallo, 91, of Worcester, MA, passed away peacefully at home Thursday, June 8, 2023. She was the mother of ten, grandmother to twelve, great-grandparent to one, sister to eight, teacher, mentor, and trusted advisor to thousands. In her early years of motherhood, She was a talented seamstress who crafted her children's Easter outfits every spring, hand knit each child's beautiful Christmas stocking, and designed birthday cakes with frosting, fondant, piping and sugar flowers. Later, she earned her blue belt in judo, was a certified SCUBA diver, and flew helicopters because fixed-wing flight wasn’t challenging enough.
Helen was born in Attleboro, MA, to Louis and Rosella (Farrell) Guillette. She graduated Valedictorian from her class at Attleboro High School, earned her BS (summa cum laude) in Biology from Tufts University and her MS in Pharmacology from Tufts University Medical School. Her career spanned teaching at Clark University, Brandeis University, Tufts, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) before joining Astra Pharmaceutical Products, where she would eventually become Director of Scientific Information and Clinical Research. Helen co-authored the seminal publication titled Local Anesthetics: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Use. She oversaw all the clinical trials in North America and Europe of a new compound called bupivacaine, a drug now used worldwide on a daily basis. During her time at Astra, she earned a Ph. D in Physiology at Clark, an MBA from WPI, and was a visiting fellow and special student at MIT’s Sloan Institute.
Helen joined the faculties of WPI’s Management and Biology and Biotechnology departments in 1982 following a successful career as a researcher and business leader in the fields of physiology, pharmacology, and anesthesia. She would spend the next 35 years as a beloved instructor, who knew the names of every student by the end of the first class session. She was the second woman at WPI to be named a full professor and the first woman to be elected Secretary of the Faculty, the highest faculty post at the university. Helen was well-known for the professor-student engagement that she brought to her classes in Organizational Behavior, Project Management, Change Management, Biology, Medical Product Liability, Great Problems Seminar, and Senior Seminar. She served as Head of the Management Department (1989-1995) and held the Harry G. Stoddard Professorship in Management from 1991 to 1996.
Helen was a member of the President's Council for the Advancement of Women and Minorities, Chief Justice of the Campus Hearing Board, as well as Chair of the Committee on the Status of Women. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Psi Omega, and The Skull societies. She also performed in numerous roles for WPI’s Masque’s plays. One of her most treasured roles was as the longtime advisor to WPI's Phi Sigma Sigma sorority where she mentored hundreds of young women on their journey at WPI and beyond.
Helen was an author, public speaker, and winner of numerous awards and honors, including the key to the City of Worcester, American Business Woman of the Year (1981), and WPI's Goat's Head Award for Lifetime Commitment to the school.
In 2003, Helen was named Outstanding Teacher of the Year by the Board of Trustees, and received the WPI Women's Program’s Woman of Courage award in 2008. She was also honored that year with Worcester’s Office of the City Manager's Women of Consequence award. Additionally, she received the National Advisor of the Year and the Women of Strength award for her commitment and work with the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority.
While her children were still at home, Helen and her husband, Charlie, took the family on numerous camping trips from Nova Scotia to the tip of Florida, learning about flora and fauna along the way. In later years, she would make her annual pilgrimages to Maine, Canyon Ranch, and the Trappe Family Lodge in Vermont, where she enjoyed reading numerous books, solving difficult crossword puzzles, engaging in soul-searching conversations, or finding peace in quiet moments of solitude.
With all of her energy and passion, Helen instilled in her children the love of travel, gardening, swimming and reading. Most of all, Helen urged her children to be kind, compassionate, and to always "grab a piece of sunshine."
Helen, as a Roman Catholic, shared her gift of Faith with many and helped others strengthen their relationship with the Holy Trinity. For many years, Helen was an active member of the Immaculate Conception Parish and enjoyed being a Lector at Masses.
Helen’s family wishes to express their gratitude to Right At Home Healthcare, Enhabit Heathcare, Your Ride transportation, the medical and nursing staff at St. Vincent’s Hospital, and Dr. Murphy and his caring colleagues at Grove Medical Associates.
Helen leaves behind her children, Dr. Susan Vassallo of Plainville, Patti Hoversten of Quincy, Chuck Vassallo (Gifford) of Brooklyn, NY, Kathi Mogan (Mike) of St. Petersburg, FL, Virginia Johnson (Erik) of Grafton, Elizabeth Caforio (John) of Leicester, Rosemary Nelson of Millbury, Steve Vassallo (Trae) of Portola Valley, CA; her 12 grandchildren, Sydney and Dan Hoversten; Camden and Dalton Vassallo; Anders, Caroline, and Axel Johnson; Chris Nelson; Merritt, Ryker, and Langley Vassallo; Conner Vassallo; her great-grandchild, Lukas Hoversten; her sister Ann Hart (John), and her many nieces and nephews. Her husband, Dr. Charles Vassallo, sons Vinny and Mike Vassallo (Kathy), and siblings Dr. James Guillette, Dr. William Guillette, Virginia Gallogly, Muriel Hobin, Ruth Guillette, Robert Guillette, and Richard Guillette, predeceased her.
Calling hours are Thursday, June 15 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Athy Memorial Home, 111 Lancaster St., Worcester, and a Mass of Christian Burial will be held Friday, June 16 from the funeral home with a Mass at 11 a.m. at Immaculate Conception Church, 353 Grove St., Worcester. Burial will follow in St. John’s Cemetery, Worcester.
In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Helen may be directed to Abby’s House in Worcester, or the Maryknoll Society.
52 High Street, Worcester MA 01609
Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers
P.O. Box 302, Maryknoll NY 10545-0302