Former public health school Dean Joyce Lashof dies at 96

photo of dr joyce lashof
Berkeley Public Health/Courtesy

After breaking countless barriers in a career spanning more than 50 years, former Berkeley School of Public Health Dean Joyce Lashof died June 4 at the age of 96.

According to Dale Ogar, Lashof’s colleague, Lashof made it her goal to break one barrier after another, not just for herself, but for as many people as she possibly could.

“If you break a barrier, it just makes it easier for the next person to break a barrier,” Lashof once said when asked about her role in bringing women into academics.

Lashof enrolled in medical school in 1946 according to a School of Public Health press release. The press release noted that after completing her residency in 1953, Lashof became an assistant professor in the medicine department at the University of Chicago.

Upon being denied tenure in 1960 on the basis of her womanhood, Lashof moved to the University of Illinois, where her research led to findings on the disproportionate amount of health problems faced by low-resourced and disadvantaged communities, according to the press release.

Georges Benjamin, current executive director of the American Public Health Association, noted that during this time, she also joined the association, which she would become president of in 1972.

“The 60s was a time when the United States was going through a lot, so she was a strong supporter of civil rights, she was a supporter of equity for women, and she was a strong supporter of comprehensive healthcare coverage,” Benjamin said.

Lashof was the first woman to be named chair of the Illinois Department of Public Health, according to the press release. During her time as chair, she tackled public health issues faced by under-resourced communities in Chicago’s West Side, gaining her national recognition.

According to Ogar, in 1981, Lashof was appointed the first female dean of the campus School of Public Health. Ogar added that during Lashof’s time as dean, she, with Ogar and another colleague, spearheaded the creation of the campus Wellness Letter.

“She was a key member and had been a key member in terms of applying her superior intellect and experience in helping us vet the material that we presented to the public,” said John Swartzberg, campus professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology and current chair of the editorial board of the Wellness Letter.

Ogar noted the publication took an innovative approach to healthcare, focusing on prevention rather than disease and treatment as its peer publications did.

Lashof was just as inspiring and distinguished in her personal life, Ogar said, also calling Lashof warm and meticulous. He added that Lashof had a love of travel and was very close to her family.

“She was in so many ways a real visionary,” Ogar said. “She was just an amazing woman, a real role model, for me, for everybody and for every woman I know.”

Contact Ratul Mangal at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @mangalratul.