In Memoriam: Noreen Clark, Ph.D.

Noreen M. Clark, Ph.D., the Myron E. Wegman Distinguished University Professor of Public Health, director of the U-M Center for Managing Chronic Disease, and former dean of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, died November 23, 2013 in New York City after a brief illness. She was also a professor of health behavior and health education at SPH, and a professor of pediatrics at the U-M Medical School.

“We are stunned and saddened by Noreen’s passing. 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. Our thoughts are with her family during these difficult days,” said University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman.

Memorial Program Cover

This image is the program cover from the Noreen Clark memorial celebration held at the University of Michigan on April 3, 2014.

Click the image to download a PDF of the entire program.

We invite you to sign our public guest book to share your memories and thoughts about Noreen.

One of the world’s leading experts in the management of chronic disease, Clark conducted numerous large-scale studies with the goal of building capacity within individuals, families, and communities for effective chronic disease prevention and management. Using asthma and heart disease as models, Clark sought to identify the key elements of chronic disease self-management. Her studies of disease management proved that educational interventions for patients and providers can decrease asthma and heart-related hospitalizations and medical emergencies. This work led to an archetype educational program for health care facilities, Physician Asthma Care Education (PACE), distributed by the National Institutes of Health and used in hundreds of clinics both nationally and internationally.

HEB Journal Cover

The Fall 2014 edition of the journal "Health Education & Behavior" is a special issue dedicated to the life and work of Noreen M. Clark.

You can read the entire issue online here.
Related: Podcast with Marc Zimmerman (12:30)

Another program that adapted Clark’s self-management approach, Open Airways for Schools, was disseminated by the American Lung Association and has reached nearly a million schoolchildren. Other model programs for the management of asthma and heart disease by patients, clinicians, and communities are used worldwide. At the time of her death, Clark and her research team were studying new disease management models related to diabetes, epilepsy, and obesity, and were examining how successful public health programs could be more accessible to the communities most in need.

Globally, Clark tested interventions designed to improve health status, quality of life, and collaborative activity among rural populations in Kenya and the Philippines, and urban dwellers in Beijing, China. She was a consultant for a wide range of international organizations, including the Ethiopian Women’s Welfare Association; the Ministry of Education in Nepal; the Asia Foundation in Pakistan; the Directorate of Health in Portugal; the World Bank; the United Nations Development Program; the Synergos Institute; the Community Health Authority of Madrid; and the Beijing Heart, Lung and Vessel Institute, among others. She published more than 150 peer-reviewed articles in professional journals.

“It is a rare thing indeed that any one person fulfills with grace and kindness the role of scholar, mentor, sage, teacher, confidante, colleague, and friend. Noreen embodied all of these to the students, faculty, and staff of the School of Public Health, and to communities around the world. Her parting leaves in each of us a void that will not easily be filled,” said Martin Philbert, dean of the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Born in 1943 in Glasgow, Scotland, Clark moved with her family to the United States when she was eight years old. She received a B.S. degree in political science from the University of Utah in 1965, an M.A. in higher and adult education from Columbia University in 1972, an M.Phil. degree in adult education from Columbia University in 1975, and a Ph.D. in adult education research from Columbia University in 1976. She served on the faculty of the Columbia University School of Public Health from 1974 to 1981, serving as director of the school’s Program in Public Health Education from 1977 to 1981. In 1981, Clark joined the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Public Health. She was chair of the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education from 1987 to 1995 and dean of the school from 1995 to 2005. In 2005, she was named the Marshall H. Becker Professor of Public Health at U-M SPH, and in 2006 the university named her the Myron E. Wegman Distinguished University Professor of Public Health. She served as director of the U-M Center for Managing Chronic Disease from 2006 until her death.

An enthusiastic fly-fisherman, passionate reader, and inveterate traveler, Clark once said, “Maybe it’s part of being an immigrant, but I’ve always had this sense of wanting to see what’s over the horizon.” She spent many of her summers in Montana and Wyoming, particularly Jackson Hole. She also spent time in Italy, and was conversant in Italian. She was an avid moviegoer and attended the Sundance Film Festival in Utah with her close friends every January. She loved going to Broadway shows with her husband and friends.

Clark was broadly known as a wise, caring mentor to countless students and colleagues throughout her career. She inspired and encouraged people in myriad ways to find the best educational programs, job choices, and unexpected career paths for their future.

Clark held many leadership positions, including the national program director for the Alliance to Reduce Disparities in Diabetes; director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Allies Against Asthma National Program; and director of evaluation for the Food and Community Initiative of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Safety-Net Enhancement Initiative of the Kresge Foundation, and the Merck Childhood Asthma Network Care Coordination Initiative. She served on the Advisory Council of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, was president of the Society for Public Health Education, and was chair of the Public Health Education section of the American Public Health Association. She chaired the Behavioral Science section of the American Thoracic Society; was a member of the Pulmonary Diseases Advisory Committee for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; and was a member of the institute's Advisory Committee on Prevention, Education, and Control. She served on the CDC’s task force on Community Preventive Services, on the expert panel of the Department of Health and Human Services Multiple Chronic Conditions Framework task force, and recently was vice chair of the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Advancing Pain Research, Care and Education.

“Noreen was a true mentor and friend, and she had great vision,” said Joel Lamstein, president of John Snow, Inc., and a long-time colleague. “I could always trust her to tell me the truth and provide guidance, with kindness and dignity. I think her deep legacy will be her worldwide work as a practitioner in both public health and education, bringing the full force of scholarly knowledge to communities and individuals in ways that changed their lives. She was a brilliant academic who was also not afraid to get her hands dirty working with people where they lived.”

Among her many honors, she was a recipient of the Distinguished Fellow Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Society for Public Health Education; the Derryberry Award for outstanding contribution to health education in behavioral science given by the American Public Health Association; and the Health Education Research Award conferred by the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program of the National Institutes of Health for leadership and research contributions. She was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Clark is survived by her beloved husband of 30 years, George Pitt, a documentary film director, of New York City; a son, Alex (Christine Kolosov) Pitt; and a grandson, Max, of Los Angeles. Memorial contributions, in lieu of flowers, should be made in memory of Noreen Clark to the University of Michigan Center for Managing Chronic Disease (CMCD), whose focus was on people with the most vulnerable health risk and those who could help them. She founded CMCD and directed it for more than seven years.

A public celebration of Noreen Clark’s life was hosted at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in April 2014.

The 2014 School of Public Health symposium was entitled, "The Challenge of Chronic Disease: A Symposium Honoring the Legacy of Noreen M. Clark."

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