January 21, 2020
Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, Alumni Distinguished Professor and dean of the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, was honored with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill General Alumni Association’s (GAA) Faculty Service Award last week.
The GAA Board of Directors presented the award, which celebrates faculty members who have performed outstanding service for the University.
In the case of Dean Rimer, her illustrious career can be divided into three phases. Early on, she was a world-class researcher and educator. The textbook she co-authored — Health Behaviors: Theory, Research and Practice, now in its fifth edition — is an international reference in the field.
Next came her work in government. As division director of the National Cancer Institute, she initiated new directions for population health that still guide the nation’s cancer control research goals. She improved the rate of women getting mammograms through her understanding of genetic predisposition that would identify who was likely to get breast cancer. Her risk communication skills and expertise in shifting health behaviors enabled her to convey that scary information without raising fear and, instead, to encourage patients to simply do what they needed to do.
Finally, as a University administrator, she is one of UNC’s longest-serving deans. Currently in her third term, she mentors and creates careers for young people. While her research pertains to cancer, evidence-based public health, health behavior, health communication and HPV vaccination, she keeps on top of where the entire public health field is going. Plowing through innumerable journal articles on her ever-present laptop, she moves the Gillings School forward into that space.
Dean Rimer came to UNC in 1992 as an adjunct associate professor of health behavior. (Now, she is an Alumni Distinguished Professor.) She also served as acting deputy director of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center and then as director of the division of cancer control and population sciences at the National Cancer Institute. In 2002, she became a senior research fellow at UNC’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. The following year, she was made deputy director for population sciences at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Early in her tenure as dean of the school of public health, she secured the transformative donation from the Gillings family that prompted the School’s renaming to the Gillings School of Global Public Health. That gift solidified the School’s legacy and afforded exciting opportunities to invest in innovation. The School now ranks No. 1 among public health schools in funding from the National Institutes of Health, and U.S. News & World Report ranks it the top public school of public health in the United States.
To this day, Dean Rimer leads by example. Service is what she does and who she is — and her accomplishments stand out. In 2008, she was elected to the National Academy of Medicine, one of the highest achievements in her field. In 2011, she was appointed chair of President Barack Obama’s Cancer Panel. President Bill Clinton had previously named her to the National Cancer Advisory Board in 1994, and she served through 1997.
Her resume is rich with awards for distinguished service, achievements and leadership, including honors from the American Cancer Society, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute. At UNC, she has been elected to the Order of the Golden Fleece and the Order of the Grail-Valkyries.
As dean, Rimer has been driven to increase inclusive excellence at the Gillings School. She takes difficult stands and musters the courage to speak out on issues that impact the inclusion of all faculty and students, all with the dual goal of doing what is right and creating an environment in which all feel welcome. In 2018, Gov. Roy Cooper appointed her to his Commission on Inclusivity.
She also backs her beliefs with financial support. As the number of public health schools and programs continues to grow nationally, there is increased competition for the best and brightest students. In response, Dean Rimer recently accelerated a previously planned estate gift (established in 2009) and made a $100,000 gift in support of The Irving and Joan Rimer Scholarship Endowment Fund. This fund — named in memory of her parents to recognize their lifelong commitment to health communication, social justice and equality of opportunity — supports Gillings graduate students seeking a degree in health behavior, with a focus on enhancing inclusive excellence at the School.
Along with fulfilling her commitments and responsibilities, Dean Rimer always makes time to be kind, generous and thoughtful. She truly cares about the people she works with, and she lets them know. She remembers birthdays — of employees and their children! She writes beautiful thank-you notes, condolence letters, retirement speeches and promotion announcements. As a long-ago English major, she can deftly match words with sentiments.
This level of care — and her passion for public service — are what make Dean Rimer an outstanding leader. By her example and through the environment she works to create at the Gillings School, she hopes to spread the word that public health is a proud, noble profession.
Contact the Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at firstname.lastname@example.org.