Donald “D. A.” Henderson, Dean Emeritus of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Honorary Fellow at our School, has died at the age of 87. Professor Henderson was a key figure in public health. From 1967, he led the World Health Organization’s successful 10-year effort to eradicate smallpox, one of the greatest public health achievements in history.
D.A. was known and respected throughout the world. He was an incredible raconteur who had, it seemed, a million stories about his life in public health, ranging from the influenza epidemic of 1957 to running the WHO smallpox program to initiating and leading our nation’s preparedness and response efforts for bioterrorism. Up until the present, he was sought out for advice and continued to contribute his insights on a variety of important issues, especially vaccination. In this past year, he continued to lecture and present symposiums at Johns Hopkins and around the world. For his contributions, he received numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. D.A. was awarded the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s prestigious George Donald Medal in 1975.
D.A. graduated from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health with an MPH in 1960 and led it as dean from 1977 to 1990, taking over when it faced significant challenges. Under D.A.’s leadership, faculty established 13 new centers and institutes, many of which were the 1st of their kind and continue to lead their respective fields. By 1990, the school’s budget had more than quadrupled, and enrolment had grown by 40 percent. As an administrator, D.A.’s commitment to fairness and equity resulted in the appointment of the school’s 1st female chair in 1983 as well as the University’s 1st female academic dean and the 1st African-American associate dean.
D.A. was a force of nature who, until relatively recently, seemed invulnerable. Public health has lost a hero, and we have lost a great friend and colleague.
This obituary was adapted from a piece written by Michael J. Klag, Dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. You can read more about Dr Henderson and the fight against polio in the Washington Post’s special article.
Photo: D.A. Henderson unveiling a plaque at the School commemorating the eradication of smallpox. Courtesy of the Library and Archives Service of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine