Centennial Gala Celebrates Public Health Leadership
It was 100 years in the making. A special Centennial Gala fundraiser celebrated a century of the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, highlighting the School’s legacy of impact and affirming its leadership for the coming decades. The April 26 dinner honored three public health luminaries whose work has collectively improved millions of lives around the world. It also raised funds to support science, education, and service as the School embarks on its second century.
In opening remarks, Dean Linda P. Fried pointed to 100 years of public health progress epitomized by the remarkable feat of extending human life expectancy by 25 years. “And now, as we enter the second century of public health,” she said, “we bring this track record to the challenges ahead,” adding that continued innovations will not be funded by traditional government sources alone.
Dean Fried announced that the gala, chaired by Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine, who also serves as chair of the Columbia University Board of Trustees, raised a total of $3 million for Columbia Mailman. In addition, leading up to the celebration, the School received $35 million in new transformational gifts. These include $5 million from Jonathan and Jeannie Lavine to endow the Lavine Family Directorship of the Climate and Health Program; $5 million from Jack and Valerie Rowe; $2.5 million from Alan and Jane Batkin to endow the Jane and Alan Batkin Professorship in Child Health and Well Being; and a $3 million anonymous gift to support student scholarships. Susan Lasker Brody, dedicated alumna, supporter of the School, and long-time member of the Board of Advisors included the provisions in her estate plans to enable Columbia Mailman to realize her long-held vision of creating a Center for Population Mental Health at the School with her support of $15 million.
“It is through the commitment and generosity of so many in this room, your partnership, your contribution of resources and capabilities, and your ambassadorship, that we are able to keep innovating to improve and save lives around the world by the millions,” said Dean Fried to an audience of board members, donors, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends.
Three Trailblazing Honorees
The Centennial Gala honored Wafaa El-Sadr, Columbia University Professor, director of ICAP at Columbia, executive vice president for Columbia Global, and director of Columbia World Projects; P. Roy Vagelos, a physician, retired president and chief executive and chairman of Merck & Co., and philanthropist; and Anthony S. Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the 2023 recipient of the Calderone Prize in Public Health.
Betsy Williams, MPH ‘03, a Columbia Mailman Board member, introduced El-Sadr, comparing her to a rock star: “You know you have reached a rare level of fame when you are known by only one name…Bono…Oprah…Madonna…And Wafaa,” Williams began, going on to laud the honoree for being “a model for how all of us in global health should conduct ourselves, whether making policy or making rounds.”
In accepting the honor, El-Sadr reflected on her formative years as a young medical student in Egypt, where she was assigned to make regular visits to a rural village to care for a family there. “This early experience surely inspired me as a young doctor to think beyond the traditional role expected of a physician. And that inspiration has endured,” she told the audience.
Kenneth Frazier, Retired Executive Chairman & Former Merck CEO, introduced Roy Vagelos, calling him a model leader as Merck CEO from 1985 to 1994. Notably, Frazier said, Vagelos devoted significant company resources to solving public health challenges, providing leadership as an executive and as a philanthropist with “kindness, caring, and compassion.”
Vagelos spoke about his campaign to dramatically reduce river blindness, which was then widespread in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the developing world. Merck provided millions of doses of the drug ivermectin free of charge, dramatically reducing the prevalence of the disease. He also spoke about his efforts to boost the availability of a vaccine for hepatitis B in China, ultimately slashing the rate of hepatitis B in China by more than 25-fold.
Introduced by Dean Fried, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger said, “I want to recognize Linda and Wafaa and Roy; these are people I admire tremendously and have done a huge amount for Columbia University.” President Bollinger went on to introduce Anthony Fauci, saying, “he has gone beyond being an outstanding public servant in and out of public health and medicine and become one of the most admired national and world leaders of our era.”
In his remarks, Fauci spoke to the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that scientific feats like the rapid development of vaccines were tempered by the normalization of untruths, saying, “If anything is the enemy of public health, it’s misinformation and disinformation.” He concluded by offering his well-wishes for the School, using words of his Italian grandparents—“cent’anni,” which means “may you live 100 years.” Fauci said, “So, I say to you, the school of public health, may you have another 100 years of extraordinary accomplishments.”
Katrina Armstrong, chief executive officer of the Columbia University Irving Medical Center and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, remarked on the enduring partnership between medicine and public health and introduced a video featuring WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The Director-General offered his appreciation for the School, adding he anticipated continued collaborations on critical public health challenges “for the next 100 years and beyond.”