September 14, 2021

Marcia Herman-Giddens

Dr. Marcia Herman-Giddens

Marcia E. Herman-Giddens, DrPH, created a fund to continue her work to recognize and prevent the deaths of children at the hands of caregivers. The Marcia E. Herman-Giddens and William D. Popper Fund for the Study of Child Maltreatment Fatalities endowment aims to increase the visibility of and bring attention to child maltreatment homicides by providing analyses and primary data necessary to aid prevention strategies and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities. We talked to Marica via Zoom to learn more about her work and her reasons for giving.

What led you to establish this fund. Why here?

North Carolina is one of the few states that has centralized medical examiner records — they’re all in Raleigh — making it one of the best places to study child abuse homicides and child fatalities in general. A lot of what we learn can be applied to the entire country. Better data lead to a better understanding of child abuse homicides which, in turn, leads to better prevention methods. Plus, my family has a long history with UNC, back to the 1800s. My studies in Maternal and Child Health enabled my professional work greatly, and I am forever grateful.

Marcia Herman-Giddens working in a health clinic in the 80s

Dr. Herman-Giddens’ experience as assistant director of pediatric clinics at Duke University Medical Center in the 1980s led to her concern with child abuse homicides.

What would you say to other people about giving to support public health?

Especially as people get older, they’re wondering, ‘what was the meaning of my life? Did I do any good in the world?’ Being a donor gives meaning to not only one’s own life, but you also know that you’ve done something worthwhile. As an individual, I can’t do that much, but by giving to the Gillings School, I multiply myself many times over, have a much larger impact and can be helpful to many people. Public health is a basic need for everyone.

Your initial research on this topic led to creation of new laws — can you talk a bit more about those?

The 1990 work I did with the then Child Advocacy Institute, by coincidence, coincided with several child abuse homicides so horrific they were on the front pages of our major newspapers. Some states were already beginning to do child fatality reviews, so there was some background and precedent, and the opportunity for prevention was huge. We were able to convince legislators to put together laws that required review of all child deaths and look at measures that might help prevent them: North Carolina Child Fatality Prevention Section 233 Chapter 143 of North Carolina General Statutes passed in 1991. The program is ongoing.

The fund is named in honor of William Popper. What would you like to say about him?

William D. Popper

William D. Popper

When our family informally adopted Bill, he was about the age of our children, then in their upper teens. His father had been murdered and his stepfather didn’t want him around, so he was somewhat of a lost soul. Bill was a very kind and gentle person and cared deeply about peace and the environment. When he died from lymphoma in 2011, he included me in his will because he didn’t have any children and we were, basically, his family. Bill was a sweet guy always wanting to help.

Our family is so glad that we can honor Bill’s name and his legacy. It wouldn’t have felt right to just spend his money, which is now providing for the majority of this fund. My children are all behind this gift. I care about publicity for this topic and hope my story will inspire others to give. Child fatalities are hard to talk about, and those from child abuse even harder, but we have to do something about them. On average, in this state a child is killed every two to four weeks by a caregiver. My children and I know that Bill would be so pleased about his role in this fund.

Marcia earned a Master of Public Health in 1985 and a Doctor of Public Health degree from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Maternal and Child Health in 1994. She serves as an adjunct professor in the department.

To support this work, make a gift to the The Marcia E. Herman-Giddens and William D. Popper Fund for the Study of Child Maltreatment Fatalities.

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