Remembering Howard Hiatt

To the Harvard Chan community,

It is with great sadness that I write to share the news that former Dean Howard Hiatt—a transformative leader, a brilliant scientist, and an exceptional human being—died on Saturday at age 98.

Howard H. HiattHoward had a tremendous impact on the field of public health, on our School, and on the generations of physicians, scientists, and students he mentored. We will miss him dearly.

As dean of the Harvard School of Public Health from 1972 to 1984, Howard focused on the importance of prevention as a counterweight to the expensive, high-tech interventions that dominated American medicine. One of his first steps as dean was to convene a biweekly Faculty Seminar in Health and Medicine, which pulled together scores of researchers from across disciplines to consider the political, economic, and systemic roots of poor health—along with biological and clinical factors. This revolutionary approach laid the groundwork for a vital new field dedicated to evaluating the cost-effectiveness of clinical procedures. As a Harvard Chan magazine writer aptly put it, Howard “made public health the conscience of medicine.”

Howard took a keen interest in global health as well. He co-founded our Takemi Program in International Health and helped Paul Farmer and Jim Kim launch Partners in Health, which delivers high-quality health care in the poorest corners of the world. Howard also led global efforts to raise awareness of the dire consequences of nuclear war—a campaign that took him to the Oval Office, where he urged President Ronald Reagan to carefully consider the consequences of expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Howard was a skilled bench scientist; he was part of the first team to identify messenger RNA and then to find it in mammalian cells. He was also a caring physician, devoted to bringing quality health care to low-income communities across Boston. Howard was a strategic leader who built our biostatistics, decision science, and health policy faculties into the powerhouses they are today. And he was an excellent fundraiser, significantly expanding our School’s endowment.

Above all, however, Howard was an outstanding mentor who made everyone around him better. This quote from Jim Kim in The Boston Globe’s beautiful obituary for Howard says it all: “For Howard, it was a sacred commitment to support others in the work they were passionate about.”

I encourage you to read the obituaries in The Globe and The Washington Post along with this wonderful 2013 interview to learn more about Howard’s remarkable life and enduring legacy.

We all owe so much to Dean Howard Hiatt. He truly made the world a better place.



Andrea Baccarelli, MD, PhD
Dean of the Faculty
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health