Her research carried the hope of helping to create treatments to decrease the immunosuppression of T cells, especially among older people.
“Millie was joyous about science,” Dr. Carl Grunfeld, associate chief of staff for research and development at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, said in an interview. “At one point during her illness, she proposed a different way to modify her chemotherapy and got a wonderful remission. When she told me about that, it was with the same joy about science as she had in the laboratory.”
Millie Elizabeth Hughes was born on Dec. 21, 1945, in rural Mineral Wells, Texas. Her father, Charles, owned a grocery store. Her mother, Lanore (Wilder) Hughes, was a homemaker. Later in life, both her parents became teachers.
At 5, Millie became infatuated with science fiction when she watched the early “Buck Rogers” television series. She admired the character Wilma Deering because she was a pilot — and because she wore pants at a time when Millie was always being told to wear a dress.
“And so I wanted to be Wilma Deering, because she could wear anything she wanted to, she flew a spaceship and was a professional woman,” Dr. Hughes-Fulford said in an interview for the Department of Veterans Affairs website in 2014.
Dr. Hughes-Fulford became a pilot and remained a science fiction fan, with strong devotion to the “Star Trek” television series and the “Star Wars” films, as well to the newest “Star Wars” attractions at Disney World, which she visited in 2019, her daughter said.
Recognizing that NASA’s missions in the 1960s and early ’70s were restricted to men, Dr. Hughes-Fulford became a scientist. She attended Tarleton State University (now a part of the Texas A&M University System) in Stephenville, where she graduated in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in biology. She earned a Ph.D. in chemistry and biology from Texas Woman’s University in Denton in 1972.