Distinguished alumnus William Darity Sr. dies at age 91
December 1, 2015
William Alexander (Bill) Darity Sr., PhD, 1964 alumnus of The University of North Carolina’s School of Public Health and emeritus professor and founding dean of the School of Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, died Sunday, Nov. 29. He was 91.
Born Jan. 15, 1924, in East Flat Rock, N.C., Dr. Darity earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Shaw University and a Master of Science in Public Health degree from North Carolina Central University. In June 1964, he became the first African-American to earn a doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in what is now the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Health Behavior – an endeavor that took him only two years to complete.
Neither of his parents, Aden Randall and Elizabeth Smith Darity, had been educated beyond the sixth grade. Still, they managed to provide college educations for Bill and two of his three siblings.
After working for two years with The North Carolina Fund, an anti-poverty agency, Dr. Darity joined the University of Massachusetts at Amherst faculty in 1965. At that time, the public health department had three full-time faculty members. He was appointed head of the department in 1968 and then dean in the School of Health Sciences in September 1973.
One of his final research efforts at The University of Massachusetts was to serve as principal investigator of a $3.4 million, five-year research study on smoking and cancer in black populations, funded by the National Cancer Institute. This important investigation explored the factors affecting smoking adoption and accompanying health risks among middle- and low-income blacks.
After retirement, he served as senior associate and deputy director for the Asia and the Near East for the Population Council of New York and as consultant on several research projects at University of Maryland’s School of Medicine in Baltimore.
“Bill Darity was a true public health pioneer and a remarkable person,” said Victor Schoenbach, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School and longtime colleague and friend. “He accomplished so much, including many ‘firsts,’ and then began his well-earned ‘retirement’ by returning to his earlier career in international public health. I was privileged to know him and to have enjoyed his friendship.”
Prior to pursuing his doctoral degree, Dr. Darity’s international experience included 10 years with the World Health Organization (WHO). He also served as a health consultant with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Arab Refugees and as a WHO Regional Advisor for 17 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, which included 11 Arab countries, as well as Israel, Cyprus, Iran, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Pakistan and West Pakistan (now Bangladesh), focused primarily upon malaria eradication in those countries.
Dr. Darity served as a member of the UNC-Chapel Hill board of trustees between 1985 and 1991. He was honored as an outstanding alumnus by Shaw University in March 2015 and inducted into UNC-Chapel Hill’s Golden Rams Society in November 2014. Earlier, he was named a UNC distinguished alumnus (1996) and received the Alumni Achievement Award from Shaw University (1997). He also received an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree from Shaw University (1990) and a Distinguished Service Award from the UNC School of Public Health Alumni Association (1977).
Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, dean of the UNC Gillings School, called Dr. Darity a remarkable man whose mastery of so many different areas of public health was breathtaking.
“He made major contributions to understanding the impact of health inequities on risk behaviors, such as smoking in the U.S.,” Rimer said. “But he also was a major force in international health, as his biography indicates. I always thought of him as a statesman who, while utterly courageous in breaking color barriers, was polished, persuasive and persistent in standing and working for a healthier world, one without health inequities. His impact lives on in so many ways, and we are proud of his legacy. Our thoughts are with Dr. Darity’s family and colleagues.”
Dr. Darity was preceded in death by his wife of 44 years, Evangeline Royall Darity, who died in 1994. He is survived by his wife Trudy Whisonant Darity; daughter Janki Evangelia Darity; son William Darity Jr. (known as Sandy); daughter-in-law Kirsten Mullen; and grandsons Aden Lowell Mullen Darity and William Otis Mullen Darity. Dr. Sandy Darity, Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy and professor of economics and of African and African-American studies at Duke University, presented the 2015 keynote address for the UNC Gillings School’s Minority Health Conference.
Calling hours with the family will be held Thursday, Dec. 3, from 5 to 7 p.m., at the Douglass Funeral Home in Amherst. Funeral services will be held Friday, Dec. 4, at 10 a.m., also at Douglass Funeral Home, Amherst. Burial will follow in Amherst’s Wildwood Cemetery.
Condolences may be expressed online.