A Career Spent in Service of Public Health

Dr. Gary R. Noble served in pivotal roles throughout the AIDS pandemic, spending 29 years at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and 10 years at Johnson & Johnson—demonstrating a dedication to public health that has its roots in his rural community-minded upbringing. Now he maintains an active retirement, supporting his family, the CDC Foundation and other important causes.


On the Fast Track to Medicine

Gary Rollin Noble grew up in a house without running water on a farm tilled by many generations of his family in central Michigan. As a boy, Noble’s world centered on his family, his small community, working on the three family farms, church and the school studies he loved. The first eight years of Noble’s education were spent in a one-room red brick school with a single teacher. Noble skipped a grade early on. His decision to pursue medicine as his profession was driven by the role models provided by the family physicians in his community. He was inspired by the wisdom, compassion and caring he saw in these physicians, who put their patients' health, welfare and interests first.

After only three years at Albion College, Noble entered medical school early at the University of Michigan. He spent two years there and was awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. The Rhodes Scholarship allowed Noble to study medicine at the University of Oxford in England for two years, which he considered “a mind-blowing experience for a rural kid from the farm.” This experience also provided him with an expanded understanding of the world’s diversity in ideas, people and places. Noble returned to the United States, finished his medical degree at Harvard Medical School and completed his medical residency at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill during the Vietnam War.


Embarking on a Journey of Public Health Service

Noble was able to defer his military obligation until the end of his residency. He applied to the Public Health Service and served in the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) for a two-year assignment. When he applied, his intent was to complete his obligation and move on to a fellowship in nephrology back at UNC Chapel Hill under a world-famous nephrologist. However, he soon fell in love with CDC’s mission, as well as the dedication and talent he saw in his colleagues at CDC. It was around this time that he met his lifelong companion, Peggy. About a year after beginning his career at CDC, at age 30, he and Peggy were married.

Dr. Gary Noble and Dr. David Sencer, 1976

(L-R) Dr. Gary Noble, Dr. Louis Sullivan, and Dr. Walt Dowdle

(L-R) Dr. James Mason, Ms. Anita Highsmith, President Jimmy Carter and Dr. Gary Noble

During his time at CDC, Noble worked in six states and in England, traveling the world for many different projects, such as the “Russian influenza” outbreak of 1976. Noble served in an advisory capacity to the Assistant Secretary of Health in Washington, D.C. and chaired the First International AIDS Conference in 1985, which culminated in responsibility for managing the HIV/AIDS prevention programs of CDC from 1987-1992. In Noble’s final two years at CDC, he headed the legislative offices of CDC in D.C.

Across Noble’s 29 years at CDC, he remains proudest of his leadership role during the AIDS epidemic, citing it as the single most definable and preeminent period of his career. Noble’s extraordinary career with CDC is recorded in The Global Health Chronicles, a collaboration between the David J. Sencer CDC Museum at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship.

At age 58, upon retiring from CDC with the rank of Rear Admiral in the US Public Health Service, Noble embarked on a new segment of his public health journey: the private sector. Continuing his commitment to improving the diagnosis, prevention and medical treatment of people with HIV infection and AIDS, he joined Johnson & Johnson in 1994. There, Noble worked on obtaining Food and Drug Administration approval for the launch of an HIV test that would allow individuals to privately submit a dried blood sample for HIV testing. Results would be provided by expert counselors, anonymously, over the phone. Although this diagnostic tool, unfortunately, did not survive in the marketplace, Johnson & Johnson created a corporate staff position for Noble: Vice President for Medical and Public Health Affairs. Noble spent 10 years across the family of Johnson & Johnson companies, where he was involved in a wide range of issues, including ethics, environmental questions, product safety, corporate philanthropy and liaising with professional groups such as the American Medical Association. Noble remains interested in collaborations between the pharmaceutical industry, medical professionals and responsible stakeholders, to increase access to treatment for those who cannot access medical care or therapies.

U.S.-USSR antiviral meeting, Virginia

Dr. Noble (right) working on swine influenza serology

Dr. Noble with senior Johnson & Johnson executives at a Johnson & Johnson facility in South Africa.

Philanthropy as a Way of Life

After retirement from Johnson & Johnson, Noble was able to focus more on his giving. His upbringing played a large role in defining him as a donor. His traditional midwestern community was bound together by common beliefs and goals and strongly rooted in interactive support. As an example, if someone’s barn burned, the entire community rallied around that person. Noble’s nuclear family supported their community, providing as they could for those who were less fortunate. The Noble family held a general philosophy of rejecting self-centered behavior. Based on these values instilled during his formative years, Noble’s general outlook on life is to be aware of and supportive of his larger community, through whatever means he has available. Noble does not believe in hoarding money for the sake of it, but in accumulating wealth for his own support, so that he will not be dependent on others. He gives first to his children and grandchildren, as they are his most important priority. He takes pride in being able to help his family in this way. After his family, he gives to his immediate community, and outward from there to many different organizations, including the CDC Foundation.

Noble’s philosophy of giving is that he prioritizes organizations who have the most reliability. For him, reliability means that he personally knows of an organization or has had personal contact with it, like the CDC Foundation. He also gives to organizations that are well-managed and that do not excessively compensate their leadership. Noble uses Charity Navigator to evaluate organizations that he does not have a personal connection with. CDC Foundation has achieved a top 4-star rating for 15 straight years from Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities. Only one percent of charities evaluated have received at least 15 consecutive 4-star evaluations.

While Noble learns of new opportunities to support organizations from his personal network, he ensures that these organizations fit his model of quality and worthiness. Like many donors, Noble wants to support causes that resonate within his life and have meaning to him. He deeply feels the enormity of the world’s needs and knows that while he as an individual cannot do much to affect those needs, the organizations he supports can efficiently spend his donations to great effect. He feels fortunate to expect that he will always be capable of giving to the organizations that matter to him.

Noble would advise anyone—and has even advised his new life partner, Joanne—to consider the CDC Foundation, as he believes that it does “tremendously important work that is not being done by other nonprofits or federal organizations.” He also believes that the CDC Foundation “is a worthwhile, well-run organization created to support and extend the work of CDC, one of the most influential and important public health agencies in the world.” He is a whole-hearted supporter of the work of the CDC and the CDC Foundation.



For more information about giving opportunities at the CDC Foundation, please contact Helene Erenberg, Director of Major Gifts and Individual Support via email at herenberg@cdcfoundation.org or via phone at 404.443.1139.

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