Serendipity's Friend

Serendipity's Friend

A concern for health care policy led Mitch Greenlick to run for a seat in Oregon's House of Representatives in 2002. He's been there ever since.

Representative Mitch Greenlick of Portland, Oregon, PhD '67, got his first taste of politics at just nine years old, during Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1944 presidential campaign. Greenlick has been hooked ever since. But for most of his career he took more of a behind-the-scenes role in politics, working to influence health policy from outside the public eye. This was the case until 2002, when—motivated by his concern for the direction that health care was taking, as well as his opposition to a candidate who was running uncontested—Greenlick stepped into the political arena and won a seat in the Oregon House of Representatives, where the 81-year-old still serves today.

"It never occurred to me to run for public office until I was actually doing it," says Greenlick, who has made a lifelong habit of seizing serendipitous opportunities. In fact, it was serendipity that brought him to SPH in 1961.

Greenlick had recently earned his master's in pharmacy administration and was teaching at Wayne State University. His master's dissertation happened to be lying on his advisor's desk when Benjamin Darsky, then a newly appointed professor at SPH, noticed it while visiting Greenlick's advisor. Darsky picked up the dissertation, and after leafing through it said he wanted to meet the young author.

Greenlick had been looking to expand his teaching career by earning a PhD in drug administration, but Darsky convinced him to pursue a PhD in public health economics at SPH instead.

Looking back on his time at SPH, Greenlick says the school taught him both the technical skills to operate successfully in the field of health services research and the values behind public health. Sitting on the floor of Darsky's home, sipping wine and discussing health care with visiting guests, such as the deputy director of the World Health Organization, Greenlick absorbed core lessons about the underlying philosophy of public health.

To this day, the ideological framework he learned at SPH guides Greenlick in his efforts to shape health policies to benefit his Oregon constituents—and Americans at large.

Upon graduating with his PhD, Greenlick had approximately 60 job offers. He chose a position at Kaiser Permanente and moved with his family to Oregon. In 1971, at age 36, he was elected to the Institute of Medicine. Greenlick credits SPH Professor Benjamin Darsky with shaping both the arc of his career and his approach to the work he has done throughout that career.

When asked what advice he would give to SPH students, Greenlick says he would urge them not to be afraid to seize an opportunity when it presents itself, "because you never know where a path may lead you." As he and his accomplishments attest, it pays to be a friend of serendipity.

Sydney Egan