Her Life

Sandra S. Cole, Ph.D. of Ann Arbor, passed away peacefully on May 15, 2017 in Westminster, Colorado at 79 years of age. In her final days, she was surrounded by her five children and their families. Sandra was a professor and certified sexologist who worked in academic medicine for 40 years at the University of Minnesota and the University of Michigan Medical Schools. She is recognized as a pioneer in the transgender community, and in the field of human sexuality and disability. Dr. Cole was dedicated to issues of social justice, policy and human rights, particularly for the disabled, gay, lesbian and transgender communities to whom she was a friend, educator, consultant, advocate and champion. She was an avid supporter of community arts and theater, a passionate gardener, a celebrator of holidays and life events, and a beloved friend, mentor, aunt, sister, grandmother, mother, and wife.

Born September 17, 1937 to Edith Evelyn Greenough-Keyes and Fred Richmond Shaw, Sandra spent her childhood in Fitchburg and Maynard Massachusetts. She graduated from Katharine Gibbs College in 1957. On Valentine's Day in 1959 Sandra met Theodore Cole of Boston, and they pledged their love the same year, embarking on a marriage that would last over 51 years, until his death in 2011. Sandra dedicated the first 10 years of her married life to raising five children and volunteering with local school, town, political and social welfare organizations.

In 1970, Sandra transformed her community service and commitment to social justice into a career when she joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Program in Human Sexuality. In 1977, Sandra, her husband and family, moved to Michigan, where she and and Ted joined the faculty in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Michigan Medical School. In 1990 Sandra earned her PhD from the San Francisco Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. In 1993 Dr. Sandra Cole co-authored the Ann Arbor, Michigan ordinance on gender identity non-discrimination, which passed in 1999. She founded the Comprehensive Gender Services Program at the University of Michigan, a pioneering multidisciplinary healthcare program for transgender people, and served as the program's director until her retirement in 2000.

Over her long career, Dr. Sandra Cole made significant contributions to the fields of human sexuality, disability, and to the gay and transgender communities. She served for over ten years on the National Board of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), and served as its president from 1989 to 1994. Between 1999 and 2007 she worked for the inclusion of gender identity in the University of Michigan’s non-discrimination policies. Sandra was an AASECT Certified sexuality educator and counselor, and an elected Fellow of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. She mentored multiple professionals, many of whom have gone on to become experts and leaders in these fields. Dr. Sandra Cole received many acknowledgements from the transgender community and sexology professionals including: FanFair Lifetime Appreciation Award; the prestigious Fantasia Fair Virginia Prince Transgender Pioneer Award; the Jim Toy Lifetime Achievement Award; the Distinguished Service to AASECT Award; and AASECT’s Professional Standard of Excellence Award.

Sandra Cole’s personal passions in life included gardening and fresh flowers, the arts, music, theater, travel, entertaining, and engaging with her children, and grandchildren. She and her husband, Ted, were long standing patrons of the theater and arts in their community. 

Sandra is preceded in death by her parents; her brother, David Shaw; her husband, Theodore Cole MD; and one grandson, Sachal Agha. She is survived by her children, Eric Cole, Jennifer Cole, Laura Cole Spicer, Adam Cole, and Leanne Cole Jeffers, and their partners, ten grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Sandra S. Cole is deeply loved, honored, and respected, and will be greatly missed. She and her legacy will endure in the hearts of those she touched. Her final spoken words were that she was grateful for her life.