‘A passionate scholar’: UC Berkeley professor emerita Carol D’Onofrio dies at 84

Lisa Bloom/Courtesy

After an extensive and inspiring career in public health, campus professor emerita Carol D’Onofrio died April 14 at the age of 84 following a battle with cancer.

“D’Onofrio was a bright light who touched many lives. She was a passionate scholar who was committed to the well-being of the community,” said her children, Lisa Bloom and Mike D’Onofrio, in an obituary they wrote. “She inspired everyone she met with her enthusiasm for life, endless curiosity, and sharp intellect.”

According to the obituary from her children, D’Onofrio was born in Conrad, Montana in 1936, then later moved to Enterprise, Oregon before attending high school in Walla Walla, Washington. She graduated from the University of Washington magna cum laude, or with distinction, in English and education and was voted her school’s “most outstanding woman.” 

D’Onofrio spent a year in Chile as a Rotary fellow before teaching in East Los Angeles with the Department of Public Health. D’Onofrio later received her master’s degree in public health in 1960 and her doctorate in public health in 1973 from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. In 2018, D’Onofrio was honored as one of the School of Public Health’s 75 most influential alumni.

“In an era where women were rarely in academics, research, or leadership, she dove in to all three unabashedly,” Bloom and Mike D’Onofrio said in the obituary. “At the core of her ambition was a true desire to help mankind. She found the best way to do this was to be a fierce and unrelenting advocate for the under-represented.”

In 1979, D’Onofrio became a tenured professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. She also served as an adjunct research scientist at the Northern California Cancer Center.

According to the obituary written by her children, she had board positions with Phi Beta Kappa, UC Berkeley’s Learning in Retirement Program and Samuel Merritt University’s Ethnic Health Institute, which focuses on inequities within chronic diseases. D’Onofrio was also chair of the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center board.

According to her profile on the UC Berkeley public health department website, D’Onofrio said her theme song while at UC Berkeley was “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, and one of her favorite “Berkeley moments” was seeing the expressions on students’ faces when they grasped important concepts that advanced their work.

“She was an incredible mentor, advisor, teacher and cheerleader for the work we are were so collaboratively passionate about,” said Arlene Swinderman, program director of the Ethnic Health Institute, in an email. “While her loss will be felt for a very long time by our Ethnic Health Institute family, we remain incredibly grateful to have had her in our lives.”

Contact Nat Gott at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @natgott_dc.