May 08, 2009

Ned Brooks teaches health policy and management.

Ned Brooks teaches health policy and management.

Some people are so good at what they do, they get an award named after them. But some people are so respected, accomplished and inspiring, they get two awards named after them!

Take Ned Brooks. The 66-year-old clinical associate professor of health policy and management is so passionate about public service that he easily inspires those around him to give back, to do more with what they have, to always make the world a better place. An accomplished artist, Brooks loves people, is known for his “delicious” sense of humor and is so rabid a basketball fan that he cannot bear to watch Carolina play when the score is a close one.

“He’s guided by a deep sense of ethics in doing the right thing and has a passion for making the world a better place,” says Suzanne Havala Hobbs, clinical associate professor and director of the Distance Doctoral Program in Leadership, Health Policy and Management, a DrPH program she and Brooks launched and Brooks led for several years. “I feel like I am learning from the master, because he cares deeply about his community and loves people so much,” she says.

Hobbs says that Brooks’ vast experience at the university — he was associate provost for four years and associate vice chancellor for health affairs for 10 years — makes him a highly respected “university treasure,” drawing people to him for advice.

“If people had to name somebody in the university they trust and know would treat them well, it would be Ned,” Hobbs says. “He’s very generous in giving people career guidance and helping them sort out problems they encounter.”

“[Ned] is a true role model for other faculty as an outstanding departmental and School citizen,” says Peggy Leatt, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management. He gives [his time] graciously to students, faculty and the community. He holds his values close to his heart and is not afraid to speak up and speak out.”

Brooks began his career at UNC in 1972, and officially retired in 2001, but then continued to help with the Carolina Center for Public Service and launch the DrPH distance program, which has quickly gained an international reputation for breaking new ground and attracting exceptionally qualified applicants.

After retirement, “people do all of these cool things for you,” he says, like establishing awards.

Silberman receives Brooks Award

Dr. Pam Silberman, research associate professor in the Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management, received the Ned Brooks Award for Public Service in 2008.

Silberman was recognized for research that led to legislation of benefit to the people of North Carolina, including the state’s child health insurance law, dental care access and insurance coverage for low-income populations. Her dozens of reports and analyses have informed state-level policy making on topics such as health services for children and adolescents, health insurance, the health care “safety net,” the health care workforce and managed care.

Silberman’s collaborative inclusion of residents, fellows, graduate students and other faculty in her research resulted in an effective link between the University and the development of health policy in North Carolina.

“Ned is a great example of a servant leader,” Silberman says. “What I most appreciate is how he promotes the good works of others without shining the spotlight on himself. All the while, he’s working tirelessly to improve the health and well-being of some of the most vulnerable members of our community, helping link students to service learning opportunities, and helping strengthen the University. I was proud to accept an award that has his name on it.”

Silberman, who earned juris doctor and doctor of public health degrees at UNC-Chapel Hill, is also president and chief executive officer of the North Carolina Institute of Medicine.

— Linda Kastleman

APPLES, an undergraduate service-learning program at UNC, with which Brooks had worked closely, named its first award after him and made him the first recipient. It wasn’t long before the university also created an award, the Ned Brooks Award for Public Service, which is administered by the Carolina Center for Public Service. This award recognizes a faculty or staff member of the UNC-Chapel Hill community for a sustained record of service, by “mentoring, inspiring and providing opportunities for others to effectively make a difference in the larger community.”

As it turns out, UNC won’t allow two awards to be named for a person, so the APPLES award is now given in Brooks’ honor instead of being named directly for him.

Service is in his genes

Brooks says his commitment to community is in his genes. While he grew up in Milton, Mass., a small town near Boston, his mother was very active in the local Red Cross chapter, among other volunteer activities, and his father was a selectman (elected leader) and chaired the local hospital board. Over the past 20 or so years, Brooks has served on at least 15 boards of nonprofit organizations — often as chair — that oversee public service, child development, child care services, injury prevention research, and health promotion and disease prevention. Among these organizations are the Center for Child and Family Health, Orange County Healthy Carolinians Task Force and United Way (at the county, regional and state levels).

An early favorite of Brooks was serving on the board of the Orange County Rape Crisis Center from 1995-2000 (he was chair in 1996-97) because the organization moved from a small, struggling agency to a model that was emulated around the country.

“It was so rewarding to be part of that effort, especially because the people were so wonderful to work with,” he said. “They were devoted, committed, conscientious, intelligent, hard-working people, and it was inspiring to watch them and their mission grow and do so much good.”

Brooks is not sure he sees community service as “giving back.” Instead, he says, those of us with the ability to serve are somewhat obligated to step up.

A “servant leader” stimulated by teaching

Lynn Blanchard, director of the Carolina Center for Public Service, thinks of Brooks as a “servant leader” — someone who leads but also fosters leadership and growth in others, both colleagues and students.

“In fact, Ned thinks of students as his colleagues and partners when he’s working with them on projects,” she says. “He has this remarkable ability to increase the ability and capacity of those he’s working with. He will draw them in and give them responsibility and ownership, even though he might be able to do the project a lot faster himself.”

She says that Brooks has a gift for making everyone feel better when they are around him.

“There’s no student out there who doesn’t brighten at the very mention of him,” Blanchard says. “He always makes you feel like you are his best friend.”

Leatt agrees. “Not a day goes by without my hearing praise from students for Ned’s teaching,” she says. “He is always well informed and able to communicate his material so that students listen and understand his messages.”

Brooks confirms his love for students and his colleagues, saying he has not fully retired because he loves teaching so much.

“There is no more stimulating place to be than where I am,” he says. “I love teaching, I love the students and other faculty, and I enjoy working here enormously.”

When he’s not busy teaching or serving on boards, Brooks enjoys art, writing and spending time at the family’s second home in the mountains. He dotes on his family. He and his wife, Ginny, a public school teacher, have two grown daughters, Karen and Laurie. Karen has three daughters – three-year-old twins and a six-year-old.

— Kim Gazella

Carolina Public Health is a publication of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. To view previous issues, please visit