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Donald A. Henderson

Letter from the Dean

Donald A. Henderson MD, MPH ’60

August 20, 2016

Dear Friends,

It is with great sadness that I write to let you know that Donald Ainslie Henderson, the eighth dean of our School, passed away last evening at Gilchrist Hospice Care. D. A. was a giant in public health who, prior to becoming dean, led the World Health Organization’s successful 10-year effort to eradicate smallpox, one of the greatest public health achievements in history.  Smallpox is the only human disease ever to have been eradicated.

D. A. graduated from our School with an MPH in 1960 and led it as dean from 1977 to 1990, taking over when we faced significant challenges. My first substantial interaction with him occurred in 1987 when I joined the faculty. He was impressive and imposing: tall, confident, articulate and a fierce advocate for his faculty and the School. Under D. A.’s leadership, faculty established 13 new centers and institutes, many of which were the first of their kind and continue to lead their respective fields. By 1990, the school’s budget had more than quadrupled and enrollment had grown by 40 percent. As an administrator, D. A.’s commitment to fairness and equity resulted in the appointment of the school’s first female chair in 1983 as well as the University’s first female academic dean and the first African-American associate dean. He also helped make the School and University a national leader in addressing the emerging HIV/AIDS epidemic by establishing a university-wide research center. When I became dean, he immediately reached out to offer his help and guidance. I benefited greatly from his wise counsel and kind support.

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 at our School and present at symposiums at Hopkins and around the world. For his contributions, he received numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I was happy that D. A. lived to see our Centennial and participate in a number of celebratory activities.

Many of you have known and worked with D. A. for decades and have your own special memories and stories about him. We are compiling a special online tribute to D. A. and will organize a memorial service at the School where we look forward to sharing reflections and remembrances.  

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. I will miss him. Please join me in sending our deepest sympathies to his loving wife, Nana, and to his family. I will let you know as soon as funeral arrangements are made.

With great sadness,

Mike Klag signature

Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH '87
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health