As many of you know, Dr. Allan Rosenfield, our beloved Dean Emeritus, passed away at his home on Sunday, October 12. I wanted to take this opportunity to write to you about Allan and the impact he had on so many lives around the globe. Our collective sadness in hearing of his death is surpassed only by our profound gratitude for his legacy of leadership in global health, maternal health, and public health education. The spirit with which he faced his ALS diagnosis over the past few years only added to our admiration for him.
Many testimonies to his accomplishments will be written and spoken, but the most important message I would like to add to the chorus is this: Allan will occupy a singular place in our history as a pioneer in public health at our school and in the global public health arena. We are committed to the school’s carrying forward his legacy and inspiration to ensure that we improve the public’s health and translate that into making a difference. As Andy Davidson, executive vice dean, noted in his remarks at yesterday’s service, Allan’s form of succession planning was to set about building and shaping an entire school. Together, we are ready to build upon his plan and to take the values and accomplishments of the school to the next level.
Growing up in Brookline, Massachusetts, where his father was an obstetrician and gynecologist, Allan attended Harvard College and received a degree in biochemistry before entering Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S) to be a doctor, a career goal he put to paper at age 10. After graduating from P&S in 1959, he returned to Boston for an internship and one year of general surgical residency. After two years in the U.S. Air Force, he entered the obstetrics and gynecology residency program at what is now Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The path that led him to be called “doctor to millions” started when he was stationed with the Air Force in South Korea and an interest in underserved populations was sparked. He sought out work abroad and combined a teaching assignment in a new medical school in Nigeria with a honeymoon with Clare, his wife of more than 40 years. Assignments in Africa and Thailand laid the groundwork for his lifetime commitment to global public health. That commitment brought him back to Columbia in 1975, when he was recruited as a professor of public health to found a Center for Population and Family Health and to head ambulatory services in the medical school’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He served as acting chairman of obstetrics and gynecology for two years before becoming dean of the School of Public Health.
His assignment at Columbia spanned 33 years but his impact on public health spanned the globe. While addressing worldwide health needs, he identified gaps in local health care delivery that paralleled challenges in distant countries. He and colleagues created evening clinics for adolescent women and men and innovative school-based clinics in middle and high schools throughout Upper Manhattan.
Becoming dean in 1986, he led the school to new heights and was the longest serving dean of any school of public health in the nation. In 1998, the School was renamed the Mailman School of Public Health, thanks to the transformational gift from the Mailman family. Public health started as a program in the medical school, but Allan was integral to the program becoming a full-fledged school with a world-class reputation for educating public health professionals, providing access to care where it was needed, raising awareness of AIDS (including mother-to-child transmission of HIV) in the developing world, and promoting reproductive health and empowerment of women to control their own bodies. In 1999, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave the Mailman School $50 million to create the Averting Maternal Death and Disability Program, the only global effort of its kind to support more than 85 motherhood initiatives in more than 50 countries around the world.
Allan and colleagues used foundation support to launch the MTCT-Plus Initiative to extend AIDS treatment to mothers, their children, and families. A $125 million grant from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief enabled the creation of the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs; more than 500,000 individuals in sub-Saharan Africa have benefited from treatment.
Allan’s leadership also physically unified most of Columbia’s public health programs under one roof when the school moved into the building formerly occupied by the New York State Psychiatric Institute. In 2006, thanks to the generosity of many donors, the Columbia University Trustees named our home the Allan Rosenfield Building in tribute to him. He ushered in many academic initiatives and degree programs, strengthened the school’s six departments, and recruited new faculty to broaden the scope of academic public health to include health care finance, environmental issues, epidemiological and biostatistical assessment of diseases, the impact of social and behavioral issues on health, disaster preparedness, and reproductive and maternal and child health care. The school’s budget increased from $12 million in 1986 to more than $170 million today. Applications to study at Mailman have more than doubled, and enrollment has grown to more than 1000. The school’s endowment has soared and sponsored research is at record levels. This stewardship of the Mailman School will be an enduring part of his legacy.
Many organizations outside Columbia also benefited from Allan’s vision, including the Association of Schools of Public Health (he was former chair), the Executive Board of the American Public Health Association, the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee of WHO’s Human Reproductive Programme, the boards of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Guttmacher Institute, the New York State Department of Health AIDS Advisory Council, and amfAR. He served on the boards of many other nonprofits, including the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
After Allan’s illness became widely known, tributes and awards flooded in to recognize his multi-layered leadership in public health and health care. I know that we are all grateful that there were opportunities for many tributes to recognize his incredible vision and his many contributions. Of all of the tributes that will follow news of Allan’s death, rededicating ourselves to the ideals he followed in his life and work would be the most fitting tribute of all.
To his devoted family—wife Clare, son Paul and daughter-in-law Rachel, daughter Jill and son-in-law Marc Baker, and five grandchildren, Mayaan, Yonah, Elisha, Meital, and Maor—we extend our deepest condolences. Condolence s can be sent to the family c/o Mailman School of Public Health, 722 West 168th Street, Suite 1040G, New York, NY 10032. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the Allan Rosenfield Fund at the Mailman School of Public Health, 722 West 168th Street, Suite 14th Floor, New York, NY 10032 or https://giving.columbia.edu/giveonline. In the weeks ahead, we will plan a memorial service to pay tribute to this remarkable man and will inform you as plans evolve.
Please visit our website for additional information about Allan’s career and legacy (see http://www.cumc.columbia.edu/dept/sph/news/ar-tribute/).
Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH
Dean and DeLamar Professor of Public Health
Columbia University Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health
Senior Vice President, Columbia University Medical Center
Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine