In memoriam: Prof. Marc Roberts, health systems expert

Marc Roberts

July 28, 2014

Dear Members of the HSPH Community:

It is with great sadness that I write to report the sudden death this past weekend of Professor Marc Roberts of the Department of Health Policy and Management and the Department of Global Health and Population. Marc died at his home on Cape Cod.

Marc began his career at Harvard 54 years ago when he arrived in Cambridge as a freshman in the fall of 1960. He graduated summa cum laude in social studies in 1964, and except for a Fulbright fellowship in Great Britain the next year and a brief tenure as a visiting professor at Stanford he never left Harvard. At the time of his passing he was professor of political economy and health policy emeritus.

Over his career, Marc taught economics, statistics, ethics, management, environmental policy, health policy, and global health at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Law School, and for the last nearly 40 years, at HSPH. In the past decade, he became a core faculty member in the HSPH global health group on health systems and helped develop the doctoral program in that field. Although his official faculty status was emeritus, he continued to play a leading role with other HSPH faculty in the World Bank’s training efforts on health sector reform around the world, having over the course of his career taught courses and seminars for senior government leaders in more than 30 countries on every continent except Antarctica. In fact, he had plans to teach in Spain, South Africa and Turkey this fall. In the U.S. he remained an active consultant, helping both public and private organizations adjust to changing market and policy conditions.

Condolence letter from Minister of Health, Vietnam

Click image to read condolence letter from Vietnam’s Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Kim Tien

Marc was the author of seven books and numerous papers on health care reform and health care ethics. His most widely known book, written with three HSPH co-authors, was Getting Health Reform Right: A Guide to Improving Performance and Equity, which is used around the world in courses and in guiding reform. One former Minister of Health referred to the book as his “Bible for health reform.”

In March, 2013, the HSPH and Harvard community held a retirement celebration and symposium in Marc’s honor that attracted a packed auditorium including many of his former students who have gone on to hold important posts in health policy all over the country and the world. One former doctoral student, Karl Lauterbach, now a member of the Bundestag in Germany, noted in his comments at that event: “A lot of what I currently do is inspired by Marc. I have had many brilliant teachers. The best teacher of all teachers I’ve had is Marc. There is no one I have learned more from than him. We did not always agree on all issues, but he taught me how to think, not what to think.”

HSPH Professor Michael Reich, who worked with Marc for 35 years, in many different countries, in many different venues, told me today that “Marc’s insights, his intellect, and his humor on all sorts of issues will be sorely missed by his colleagues and his students around the world.”

I know I speak for all who knew Marc when I say that we have lost a truly remarkable teacher, researcher, and mentor.

Marc is survived by his partner of many years, Dr. Mary Ann Stevenson, Chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is also survived by four children: Jenna Mammen of Baltimore, MD, Justine Roberts, of Lee, NH, Clement Roberts of San Francisco, CA, and Zaq Roberts, of Santa Cruz CA; two stepchildren: Roxanne and Alex Calderwood; three siblings: Steven V. Roberts, Bethesda MD, Glenn E. Roberts, Garrett Park, MD, and Laura B. Roberts, Cambridge, MA; eight grandchildren; and his former wife, Ann Stein Roberts.

Mary Ann Stevenson will be receiving friends at their home, 130 Lagrange Street in Chestnut Hill, MA, this Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. A memorial service will be held in the fall.

The Marc J. Roberts Financial Aid Fund to benefit doctoral candidates at the HSPH has been established by the family in Marc’s memory. Contributions may be made to the fund c/o of the HSPH Office of External Relations, 90 Smith St., Boston MA 02120.

You may also donate online by clicking here. Donors should select “Other” from the drop down and write-in Marc J Roberts Financial Aid Fund as the designation.

Julio Frenk, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.
Dean of the Faculty, Harvard School of Public Health
T & G Angelopoulos Professor of Public Health and International Development, Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Kennedy School

photo: Kent Dayton