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Donlad Ainslee Henderson, 1928-2016

AUGUST 20, 2016—Baltimore, MD—It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of Donald Ainslee Henderson, MD, MPH, our distinguished colleague and friend at the UPMC Center for Health Security. Dr. Henderson died on August 19 in Baltimore, Maryland, from complications following a hip fracture.

Dr. Henderson, known to all as “DA,” was for decades a towering figure in the world of public health and led the campaign that ultimately eradicated smallpox from the world. At the time of his death, he held the position of Distinguished Scholar at the UPMC Center for Health Security and Professor of Public Health and Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Henderson was a commissioned officer in the US Public Health Service and in the 1950s was Chief of the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the Centers for Disease Control. He spent much of the 1950s and 1960s working in the Epidemiology Branch at CDC.

He was Chief of the Smallpox Eradication Program at CDC, which led to his position, from 1966 to 1977, as Director of the World Health Organization’s global smallpox eradication campaign. In a book entitled Smallpox: Death of a Disease (2009), Dr. Henderson related his personal account of the challenges, obstacles, and disasters faced by an intrepid international program in achieving the global eradication of smallpox.

From 1977 to 1990, Dr. Henderson served as the Dean of the Faculty of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. He later held positions as Associate Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President (1990-1993), Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health and Senior Science Advisor in the Department of Health and Human Services (1993-1995), and from 2001 to 2003, he served as the Director of the Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness and, later, as a Principal Director and Senior Science Advisor for Public Health Preparedness in the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (2002-2007). He was a Founding Director (1998) of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies.

In 2002, Dr. Henderson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. In 2015, he was awarded Thailand’s Prince Mahidol Award for Public Health, and in 2013 he was presented with the Order of the Brilliant Star with Grand Cordon, the highest civilian honor awarded by the Republic of China (Taiwan). He was the recipient of the National Medal of Science, the National Academy of Sciences’ Public Welfare Medal, and the Japan Prize. He received honorary degrees from 17 universities and special awards from 19 countries.

Dr. Henderson was a member of the Institute of Medicine, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an Honorary Fellow of the National Academy of Medicine of Mexico, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London, an Honorary Member of the Royal Society of Medicine, and a Fellow of a number of professional medical and public health societies.

Dr. Henderson was Editor Emeritus of the peer-reviewed journal Health Security , and he authored more than 200 articles and scientific papers and 31 book chapters. He was the coauthor of the renowned Smallpox and Its Eradication (Fenner F, Henderson DA, Arita I, Jezek A, and Ladnyi ID. Geneva: World Health Organization; 1988), the authoritative history of the disease and its ultimate demise.

“DA Henderson truly changed the world for the better,” noted Tom Inglesby, Director of the UPMC Center for Health Security. “He led the effort to rid the world of smallpox. He advised presidents. He was honored by countries around the planet. He changed the way schools of public health teach the next generation. With all of that, he still  took the time to be a mentor to countless young people, and was a great friend. He is truly irreplaceable, and I will miss him.”  

Dr. Henderson, a Lakewood, Ohio, native, graduated from Oberlin College, the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. He served as a medical resident at the Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, New York.

He is survived by his wife, Nana, daughter, Leigh, and sons Douglas and David.



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