Tom Frieden, ‘uncompromising pragmatist,’ receives Richmond Award

CDC Director Tom Frieden receives Richmond Award from HSPH Dean Julio Frenk.

Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is the recipient of the 2014 Julius B. Richmond Award, the highest honor given by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). In presenting the award to Frieden at the 2014 HSPH Commencement ceremony, at which Frieden gave the main Commencement address, Dean Julio Frenk called him “someone who has shown us again and again what it means to make the impossible possible.”

As CDC chief since 2009, Frieden “has shaken up the status quo in the best possible way, leveraging resources for maximum impact,” said Frenk. Before that, Frieden—a graduate of Oberlin College who holds degrees in medicine and public health from Columbia University—spent eight years as head of New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In that role, Frenk said, Frieden “made history—and headlines—with his successful campaigns to require restaurants to post calorie counts and to institute targeted bans on trans-fats and smoking, paving the way for reforms around the country.”

Frenk praised Frieden’s “uncompromising pragmatism.” Frenk said that when Frieden was first approached for the New York City health commissioner’s job, he said that tobacco would be his top priority—even though, in the aftermath of 9/11, there was political pressure to put bioterrorism at the top of the public health agenda. Frieden offered a simple explanation for his choice: he said that tobacco would kill more New Yorkers than bioterrorism. Frieden went on to oversee a new tax on cigarettes and targeted smoking bans, and got a great result: 350,000 fewer smokers in the city and teen smoking cut by half.

The Julius B. Richmond award recognizes individuals who carry forth the vision of the award’s namesake, a former U.S. Surgeon General and Harvard emeritus professor. Richmond issued the momentous 1979 report that focused public attention on the proven dangers of smoking; set targets for the health of the American public with Healthy People 2000; and was the first national director of the Head Start Program.

Past recipients of the Julius B. Richmond Award:

Gro Harlem Brundtland, MPH ’65, LLD ’92, Special Envoy to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on climate change, former Prime Minister of Norway, and former Director-General of the World Health Organization

David Satcher, former U.S. Surgeon General and former CDC director

Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City

William Foege, MPH ’65, SD ’97, former CDC director
Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Kenneth Olden, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Erin Brockovich-Ellis, environmental activist

Mike Moore, former Mississippi Attorney General
Christine Gregoire, Washington Attorney General
Scott Harshbarger, former Massachusetts Attorney General
Matthew Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
Dimitrios Trichopoulos, Vincent L. Gregory Professor of Cancer Prevention at HSPH

Katie Couric, NBC Today Show host and colorectal cancer screening advocate

Senator Edward Kennedy

Marian Wright Edelman, Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund

David Hamburg, Co-chair, Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict
(1994-1999) and President Emeritus of the Carnegie Corporation

The late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, elder statesman and President of Tanzania (1962-1985)

M. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. Surgeon General

Donna Shalala, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services

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