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Elena Nikolova Dodova, 40, Bulgarian-born CDC research chemist who fell in love with Atlanta

By J.E. Geshwiler - For the AJC

Bulgarian chemist Elena Dodova resided here only six years, but she made a lasting and thoroughly favorable impression on the many Atlantans she befriended. Likewise, Atlanta and its charms cast a welcoming spell over her.

She loved cruising the city’s numerous arts festivals, shopping at neighborhood farmers markets, hunting bargains at consignment shops and trying out new restaurants.

And she treasured her position as a research chemist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at its Chamblee campus. Similarly, her colleagues there thought highly of her.

One thing Dodova didn’t like was Atlanta traffic, said a Midtown neighbor and friend, Tracy Fretwell. Under no circumstance would she drive, he said. Instead, she walked or rode MARTA.

She had taken a step toward permanent residence here by applying for a green card, Fretwell said, but it didn’t arrive in time for her to use it.

Elena Nikolova Dodova, 40, of Atlanta died Aug. 12 of complications from melanoma at Hospice Atlanta. A memorial service will be at 5 p.m. Monday at Briarcliff Baptist Church. Byars Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Cumming, is in charge of arrangements.

Dodova’s American adventure began in 2002 when she joined the staff of an environmental research institute in Amherst, Mass. Its director, Ramon Barnes, said he suggested to her at the time that while she worked there she might as well earn her doctorate in chemistry at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and so she did. He was impressed, he said, by her command of English, even American vernacular.

Peter Uden, a retired professor at the university, said Dodova was one of the most memorable of the scores of Ph.D. candidates he mentored during his career. “It was immediately clear to me she was very talented and would go far in our profession,” he said.

In 2008 she was hired by the CDC. A spokesman for the agency, Von Roebuck, said that during the ensuing years Dodova contributed greatly to CDC research by developing several unique analytical methods that produced a better understanding of human health outcomes related to exposure to toxic metals and metalloids such as cadmium and mercury.

“Elena’s contribution will live on as we apply these methods to public health issues in the future,” Roebuck said.

David Kyle, a CDC quality assurance officer who oversaw Dodova’s work, said it always was first-class. “Her job was complex and required handling sensitive instrumentation and making very fine measurements,” he said.

“Not surprisingly,” Kyle said, “Elena developed a deep appreciation for exquisite workmanship of artists and craftsmen. She often went to the Dogwood Festival and other arts fairs — not just to look, but to talk with artists about the meaning of their works, and to buy and fill her Midtown apartment with water colors, pottery, wood carvings and sketches. And jewelry, too — she collected lots of rings for her fingers and bangles for her arms.”

Some people who earn a Ph.D. put on airs, but not Dodova, Kyle said. “She remained a modest and sweet person — so innocent that we often teased her with tall tales that she would believe — that is, until she realized we were pulling her leg in a good-natured way.”

Survivors include her parents, Nikola Dodov and Lilia Dodova; and a brother, Ivan Dodov, all of Sofia, Bulgaria.

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