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‘A supportive, empathetic, patient teacher’: Public health professor Lee Riley dies at 73

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Lee Riley, professor in the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, dies on Oct. 19 at age 73.

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NOVEMBER 09, 2022

Lee Riley, UC Berkeley School of Public Health professor and chair of the infectious disease and vaccinology division, died at age 73 on Oct. 19.

Riley was born as Hiroshi Satoyoshi on Oct. 15, 1949 in Yokohama, Japan, according to a press release from the School of Public Health. At 10 years old, he was adopted by Lee Riley Sr. and Mitsue Riley and moved to Bangkok, Thailand. Riley began pursuing an education in healthcare at Stanford, followed by medical school at UCSF and a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford.

After joining the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1981, he met campus professor of epidemiology Arthur Reingold, a former colleague and close friend.

“He and I maintained our friendship over the last 40 years — in fact, I’m the person that recruited him to come to Berkeley from Cornell University in New York,” Reingold said. “He was an incredibly important member of our faculty in terms of the curriculum in infectious disease.”

At UC Berkeley, Riley continued to pioneer the field of molecular epidemiology while teaching classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels. However, his contributions to science education went beyond the campus — Reingold said he and Riley taught a course together that Riley started in Salvador, Brazil, and traveled there every summer.

Riley was the director of campus’s Global Health Equity Scholars Program, a 12-month research training fellowship.

“(Riley) brought a tremendous amount of prestige to the school with his truly exceptional research with a variety of organizations, some of which he started himself,” said former colleague and campus clinical professor emeritus John Swartzberg. “He had a wide scope of activities that were all recognized as first-class science.”

Among his research contributions to public health, Riley was able to trace a dangerous strain of E.Coli back to a line of hamburgers, heavily influencing food quality standards at a variety of fast food chains, Reingold said.

According to the press release, Riley published more than 300 scholarly articles throughout his career and received 16 grants from the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, as well as 10 patents.

“He was a supportive, empathetic, patient teacher. He challenged students in a kind and gentle way,” Reingold said. “He was always interested in people from all around the world — he worked really hard to get NIH support for students.”

According to Reingold, Riley had a love of cooking when he was off campus; Swartzberg added that he had a variety of interesting stories from his travels in Thailand, India and Brazil.

He is survived by his wife of three years, as well as his four children, two sisters, grandson, niece and nephew, according to the press release.

“What he brought to the students — undergraduates and especially graduates — was not only a great educator but a great supporter of public health,” Swartzberg said. “He was enthusiastic about encouraging students to develop their careers and was interested in helping everyone.”

Contact Ria Raniwala at 

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NOVEMBER 09, 2022