Honoring the Life and Legacy of Sarah Fries

Sarah FriesSarah Tilton Fries, M.P.H., was the co-founder of the Fries Prize for Improving Health and the Elizabeth Fries Health Education Award, along with her husband Jim Fries, M.D. The Fries family's commitment to honoring heroes in health and health education is a lasting legacy.

In her career, Sarah experienced great success with Healthtrac, the tailored health-improvement company that she and Jim founded together in the 1980s and where Sarah served as president and CEO for 16 years. In addition to his work with Sarah, Jim served as a professor of medicine at Stanford University, which he joined in 1969 and where he currently is a professor emeritus. Sarah and Jim have much to be proud of in their illustrious careers, using their success to establish the Fries Prizes.

As amazing as the legacy of the prizes is the circumstances in which they were originally imagined. Jim came up with the idea for the Fries Prize in a 1987 ascent of Nepal’s Makalu—one of the world’s highest peaks—when his party became trapped in a severe snowstorm that threatened the lives of everyone in the group.

Following that experience, Jim returned to sea level and set about with Sarah establishing a foundation to support a Nobel-like prize for health. The Fries Prize for Improving Health and the Elizabeth Fries Health Education Award, named in memory of Sarah and Jim’s daughter, have been awarded annually since 1992. Sarah remained active in the Fries Prize awards until her death in May 2017, and Jim Fries remained active in the awards until his death in November 2021.


“When I think about Sarah and Jim Fries, the word that comes first to my mind is devotion. Sarah and Jim showed great devotion to their family and to each other. And, they devoted themselves to making the world a better place by using their personal gifts to acknowledge and reward individuals for achievements in health improvement and health education.”

–  Dr. Judy Monroe, President and CEO, CDC Foundation

“Let's leave no doubt that Sarah was an incredible force in our health education profession. Upon first meeting her in 1995, she laid out her vision to bringing the very best visionaries and talent to SOPHE that would be honored with the Fries Health Education prize. And, she and Jim made sure for more than some 25 years that has continued…She is a soul that simply cannot be replaced, and in her own way left a shining example to seasoned and budding health education professionals.”

–  Elaine Auld, Chief Executive Officer, SOPHE

“It has been such a joy to get to know Sarah over the years—she was such a strong and courageous woman. And she always had a smile for all of us. She will be deeply missed.”

–  Amelie Ramirez, Fries Prize Jury Member

“With sadness for the loss of a champion in our field, and fondest memories for the vivacious woman she was.”

–  John Allegrante, 2017 Elizabeth Fries Health Education Award Winner

“Beautiful tributes to a remarkable person. Lon remembers her from their freshman English class at 8 a.m. on Saturday and how amazing the few women admitted to Stanford were in those days. I knew her as the competent and creative manager of the health education businesses that brought evidence-based interventions and important information to thousands of employees. We were lucky that she chose our profession, broadened its reach, and then gave so much to its advancement. And then there were the later tragedies that she bore with such grace.”

–  Pat and Lon Mullen, Fries Prize Jury Member

“I had known her since her sophomore year in college, when she and Jim first dated. She was always a classy lady, and bore her illness and personal tragedy with courage and dignity. I will dearly miss her.”

–  Steve Schroeder, Fries Prize Jury Member

“Such a marvelous, accomplished, optimistic, and loving lady! I know we will all miss her, but not nearly so much as Jim who showered Sarah with love and devotion through thick and thin. Our hearts go out to Jim and his family.”

–  Charlie and Laurie Stokes, Fries Foundation Board and Fries Prize Jury Member

“What a lovely lady! She always had a smile for everyone and was intensely interested in others’ lives. Her legacy will live on not only in the field of health education but in the amazing commitment Sarah and Jim have made to promoting the accomplishments of public health.”

–  Martha and Marshall Katz, Fries Foundation Board Member

“Sarah had such spirit and wisdom. She lived life to the fullest along with Jim. She will be missed both personally and professionally—she is someone who made a difference and was a significant contributor to the field of health education and public health. Many fond memories.”

–  Ron & Linda Goetzel, Fries Prize Jury Member

“We remember Sarah for her powerful influence in health education and the inspiration she leaves all of us with to keep fighting. For Jim, stay strong.”

–  David and Louise Sleet, Fries Prize Jury Member

“Sarah’s nonstop fight against the most challenging of circumstances—and Jim's extraordinary and loving devotion to her—make each of them inspirational. Sarah was inspirational long before her illness.”

–  Ken Warner, Fries Prize Jury Member

“We will remember Sarah fondly, she left a lasting legacy both personally and professionally.”

–  Ross Brownson, Fries Prize Jury Member

“Vision, courage, determination, generosity, compassion, caring—Sarah embodies every element of the hero she has been. It is a privilege to have had the inspiration of her friendship for over 30 years.”

–  Michael McGinnis, National Academy of Medicine

“Sarah Fries was an inspiration for all of us garden variety humans. She and Jim have had lives well lived, by which I mean with great character, integrity, dignity and grace as well as great kindness and generosity. We do not mourn for her because she lived such a full, productive, and happy life. We mourn for ourselves because we will all miss her so much. ”

–  Charlie Hennekens, Recipient of the 2013 Fries Prize for Improving Health

“I am saddened to hear of Sarah’s passing and my heart goes out to Jim and the entire Fries family. Sarah and her family have had, and continue to have, a profound impact on the health education profession and public health. Sarah’s legacy lives on.”

–  Kelly Bishop, SOPHE Past President

“I had the good fortune of meeting Sarah in the early ’80s when I lived in San Francisco and was part of Northern California SOPHE. I learned quickly that Sarah was a natural leader, in the best sense of leadership. She was always supportive, always thoughtful, never seeking the limelight for herself, but was always supporting the greater good. Over the subsequent 35 years, Sarah continued to epitomize grace, leadership and elegance. It was my honor to know her, and she will be greatly missed.”

–  Michael Eriksen, Georgia State University

“I owe such a debt of gratitude to Sarah! Very early in my career, Sarah took extraordinary steps to “validate” me and my ideas. Before I knew that I might have something to say, she thought so, and acted on it. Sarah’s generosity and support have overwhelmed me through the years and I was privileged to know, and care, about her!”

–  Reed Tuckson M.D., Tuckson Health Connections