Noreen Clark, a former dean of the School of Public Health, died in New York City Saturday after a brief illness.
Clark was the Myron E. Wegman Distinguished University Professor of Public Health and the director of the University Center for Managing Chronic Disease. She was also a professor of health behavior and health education at the School of Public Health and a professor of pediatrics at the University Medical School.
By Tuesday night, almost 90 people had contributed to an online guestbook commemorating Clark, posted on the School of Public Health’s website.
Dozens of University faculty members, and former colleagues from an array of institutions, remembered Clark’s infectious smile, wit and can-do attitude.
“We are stunned and saddened by Noreen’s passing,” University President Mary Sue Coleman said in a statement. “She was incredibly dedicated to the health and well-being of others, as evidenced by her teaching, research and leadership as dean. She was a friend and colleague, and I will miss her enthusiasm.”
During her tenure as dean, Clark oversaw a multitude of change within the School of Public Health. She led the reorganization of the school’s programs, which reduced the number of individual departments, establishing new interdisciplinary programs. Clark also championed the creation of 24 new academic centers.
By the end of her term as dean, the school led the University in sponsored research per capita, according to a 2004 article on Clark in “Findings,” a publication of the National Institute of Health. Toward the end of her term, she also began the first stages of a major building project.
Martin Philbert, current dean of the School of Public Health, wrote in an e-mail interview that Clark’s scholarship and vision were instrumental in a collaborative and multidisciplinary field like public health.
“She was a force of nature who, with clarity and purpose, articulated the vision and empowered all around her to do their best work,” Philbert wrote. “With students, faculty and staff alike, Dean Clark was relentless in the pursuit of excellence but was always present to provide gentle direction, encouragement and coaching.”
Philbert — who worked with Clark when he was the school’s senior associate dean for research — wrote that the School of Public Health building Clark envisioned now facilitates interdisciplinary research and collaboration among people from diverse academic backgrounds. During her time as dean, Philbert wrote that she also expanded the number of faculty and pioneered research in an array of disciplines.
“The loss of our colleague, friend and mentor has redoubled our commitment to improved health for all,” Philbert said.
Clark frequently put her research into practice, using her expertise to work toward improving health and quality of life in Kenya, the Philippines and China. As a leader in public health with significant experience abroad, Clark was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations — an influential group of leaders from a variety of backgrounds that weigh in on international relations issues.
Clark was often tapped for membership or leadership in a multitude of public health institutions. She was a former member of the Advisory Council of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and president of the Society for Public Health Education.
When her deanship ended in 2005, Clark led the new University Center for Managing Chronic Disease as director, a position in which allowed her to utilize her decades of experience studying asthma, heart conditions and other chronic diseases.
Clark was recently researching childhood asthma for her final published article “Declines with Age in Childhood Asthma Symptoms.”
Her propensity for hands-on engagement appeared early in Clark’s career. After graduating from the University of Utah with a degree in political science, she worked as a community organizer, according to the 2004 article. Clark also received two master’s degrees and a doctorate from Columbia University, all related to adult education.
Between 1974 and 1981, she served on the faculty of the Columbia University School of Public Health before joining the University’s School of Public Health in 1981.
Clark, who was born in Scotland in 1943 and moved to the United States at age eight, partially credited her trans-Atlantic emigration as her impetus to try new things, whether a departmental reorganization, a complex research challenge or a new hobby like fly-fishing.
Clark is survived by her husband of 30 years, documentary filmmaker George Pitt, her son Alex and her grandson Max. The School of Public Health will host a public celebration of Clark’s life in the spring.