Eunice Tyler, pioneering health educator at UNC, dies at 98

July 02, 2007


Photograph of Dr. Eunice Tyler

Photograph of Dr. Eunice Tyler

The UNC School of Public Health has lost a pioneer in public health education with the passing of Eunice Nickerson (“Pickie”) Tyler, PhD, who died in Asheville, N.C., on June 21, at the age of 98.

Dr. Tyler’s distinguished career at the School spanned more than two decades. With her colleague and friend, Dr. Lucy Morgan, founding chair of the department now known as Health Behavior and Health Education, Tyler helped build the first curriculum in public health education in the United States.

Dr. Edwin Fisher, professor and current chair of the department, called Tyler “visionary” and praised her “commitment to evidence-based practice.”

Born in Connecticut, Tyler received her doctorate from Yale University. She came to Chapel Hill in 1945 to join the small faculty of what was then called the Department of Health Education.

As professor of one of the key courses in the curriculum, she was renowned for her ability to translate philosophy and theory into practical applications. Her professional life was devoted to the development of highly competent health educators, and she endeared herself to students through her unfailing respect for them and her sensitivity to their needs and concerns.

She was also an avid researcher, and her students benefited from her alertness to new materials and resources.

While most health education students worked with communities across the United States to close racial gaps in health outcomes, eradicate tuberculosis, and reduce unplanned pregnancies, Tyler’s students also focused on tropical diseases in the Philippines and the Caribbean islands. Periodically, the World Health Organization sought her advice and assistance in training health educators from nations around the world.

She was a charter member of the national Society for Public Health Education in 1965 and was co-editor of the department’s annual publication, “Health Educators at Work,” from its beginning in 1947 until her retirement in 1966.

University of North Carolina President Emeritus William Friday said, “Dr. Tyler was one of those noble spirits who, day by day, provided the University with uncommon, dedicated and intelligent service that gave the institution its strength and its high competence. Our debt to this gracious, good lady is great indeed.”

In the early 1990s, the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education honored Tyler by naming their highest alumni award after her. The Eunice N. Tyler Award for Excellence in public health education practice, one of the two oldest awards in the department, recognizes public health practitioners who have more than 10 years of service and have demonstrated leadership in their employment and in professional groups. The monetary award, endowed by an anonymous donor in 1987, was designed to encourage a high level of performance in the practice of public health education among alumni from the department.

“The award recognizes the values that Dr. Tyler embodied, which still inspire health behavior and health education students today,” Joanne Earp, professor and former chair of the department, said when presenting the award a few years ago.

Some of the past award recipients include Julie Sweedler (MPH, 1994), director of the Women’s Health Information Center, Women’s Hospital, UNC Health System; Lynda Anderson (PhD, 1984), chief of the Health Care and Aging Studies Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Leonard Dawson (MSPH, 1963), former faculty member in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, UNC-Chapel Hill.

The complete list of recipients is posted on the UNC School of Public Health website at

Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, Dean of the School of Public Health, said that “Dr.Tyler will be remembered with affection and gratitude as a vital force in the early development of the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education and its important contribution to the progress of health education nationwide. We are proud that that she was a faculty member at our School, and we mourn her loss.”

Tyler was a member of the Deerfield Retirement Community in Asheville, N.C., where she had lived since 1972. She was cremated, and her ashes were buried in Connecticut with those of her mother and father, Herbert Clayton Nickerson and Mary Etta Forbes Nickerson.

No memorial service is planned, but the department will continue to commemorate Tyler’s life each year when the Eunice N. Tyler [Practice] Award for Excellence is awarded to a deserving department alumnus.

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School of Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, director of communications, (919) 966-7467 or