Dr. Judy Monroe: Forging A Public Health Career and Leaving a Philanthropic Legacy

Dr. Judy Monroe is not just the CDC Foundation’s president and CEO. She’s also a committed donor to the organization, allowing her to further give back to the field of public health. But both her career and her role as a donor had to grow over time from much humbler beginnings. It has been a journey of passion and lifelong learning.

Shaping a Future Leader

Monroe grew up in Dayton, Ohio, listening to stories about her mother’s experience with polio—an early exposure to the ideas of public health. It was in fact those stories from her mother, alongside an interest in both science and people, that led her to decide from a very young age that she wanted to be a doctor.

Attending medical school felt like the fulfillment of a long-held childhood dream. But it was only the first step. When deciding where to go next, Monroe looked particularly at practice in underserved communities. Wanting to be as useful as possible to people, she ended up practicing medicine in a rural community in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee. During that time, her eyes were opened to the social determinants of health, what drives health, and what motivates people—concepts that would prove central to her future career in public health.

The other major shaping force in Monroe’s career was her experience in teaching. By the time she left her public health assignment in Appalachia, she had a family of five. Since graduating from medical school, she had married Dr. Robert Lubitz and had three children; Monroe’s young family moved together to Indianapolis, IN, where she first joined the faculty at Indiana University and later moved to St. Vincent Hospital to direct a residency program. As a teacher at heart, this series of moves felt like a perfect fit for Monroe, who says she especially enjoyed the combination of practicing medicine, teaching and working in hospital administration.

Drs. Judy Monroe and Bob Lubitz horseback riding in Shenandoah National Park

Drs. Judy Monroe and Bob Lubitz exploring Taiwan together

Using Wide-Ranging Connections to Build Coalitions

Her experiences would eventually come together in an unexpected way. Years into her work at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Monroe received an offer from the governor to become a part of his cabinet. Though she had never formally worked in public policy before, throughout her career practicing medicine she had grown increasingly aware of the influences on health outside the walls of doctors’ offices, which gave her increased purpose in her new role as Indiana’s State Health Commissioner.

Monroe has worked in public health ever since. When Dr. Tom Frieden, the newly appointed CDC director, approached her to work as a deputy director overseeing the Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support, she made her final move—to Atlanta. And six years later, she received the fateful call from an executive search firm looking for a new president and CEO for the CDC Foundation. Monroe says today that what particularly drew her to the Foundation was its interesting place in the public health ecosystem: right at the intersection of the private sector, philanthropy, CDC and the broader public health world. “It has been quite a ride at the Foundation,” she says, adding, “No dull moments!”

Looking back on her career, Monroe notes that much of her success came from two major philosophies: saying yes to opportunities and taking what she learned in each prior position into the next one. Monroe emphasizes that she can learn something from everyone. “I think we all should continue to learn and be inquisitive,” she says. “It makes life a lot more exciting.”

This commitment to interpersonal relationships and educational exchange has repeatedly come to bear in her current role, in which she is especially focused on bridging divides as a convener. Her personal career journey and ongoing curiosity for the experience of others have helped build the wide ring of friendships and connections that is so critical to building coalitions within the field of public health. Monroe has frequently said that now, more than ever, is the time to deeply listen to one another. In fact, there was a moment during the first summit in the Lights, Camera, Action national summit series, a four-part series on the future of public health, where one of the panelists said, “This feels like Dr. Monroe called us all into the living room for a family meeting.”

Dr. Monroe with her daughter, Kelley

Dr. Monroe with her sons, Alex and Jonathan

Developing and Deepening an Understanding of Philanthropy

As her career has progressed over the years, so has Monroe grown into the role of donor. During her early professional years, she made small donations and admits she did not have the means for much else. She did not view herself as a donor then because she had rent to pay, student loans and three young children. But as Monroe and Lubitz’s careers matured, they became serious about philanthropy, beginning with causes near and dear to their hearts. They started by giving to the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, an organization their daughter was involved with, and which showed them firsthand the enrichment the choir could give children. Monroe describes feeling called to make the gift of music equally available to children whose families could not afford the trips and expenses.

Over the years Monroe and Lubitz continue to emphasize these key aspects of their giving philosophy: they want their gifts to be impactful, and they donate to causes that have mattered in their own lives. As Monroe describes it, their philanthropy is a vehicle to create the change in the world they hope to see. And just like Monroe focuses on coalition-building in her career, the couple’s donations also focus on organizations that are intentional about collaboration with others, at both a local and a systems level. She maintains that major change comes from altering systems, and returns to the example of the CDC Foundation, with its array of partners, unique position within the ecosystem and its ability to pinpoint where impactful contributions can be made to advance a better life for others.

As their approach to philanthropy has matured, Monroe and Lubitz have also turned an eye to legacy giving. They are members of the Healthy Futures Society, an honorary group recognizing individuals and families that have included the CDC Foundation in their will or other estate plans. “In our younger years, we were not thinking about planned gifts because we were trying to pay our bills,” Monroe says. She notes that she is privileged to have lived long enough to reach a point where she and Lubitz needed to update their wills.

It behooves all of us to stop and think about our legacy, and planned giving is a way to tangibly leave that legacy. Nobody knows what will happen throughout their lives, so each day needs to be lived to the fullest.

Part of their longer-term focus is driven by the loss of family, friends, colleagues and former classmates. Monroe’s mother passed two and a half years ago, and Lubitz’s own life was recently at risk with a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. These experiences make Monroe look at life differently and, as she says, realize that it is finite. She explains that while she has had an excellent time carrying out the first three of Stephen Covey’s directives in his book First Things First: To Live, to Love, to Learn, to Leave a Legacy, she felt it was time to address the last point.

Together, Monroe and Lubitz decided to leave a planned gift to the CDC Foundation in their wills. Aligning with Monroe’s passion for education, they directed this gift toward training the next generation. Monroe and Lubitz describe themselves as confident in their decision to leave a planned gift to the CDC Foundation because they trust the organization’s work—with Monroe noting that she would make this decision even if she were not employed as the president and CEO.

“It behooves all of us to stop and think about our legacy, and planned giving is a way to tangibly leave that legacy,” Monroe advises, urging everyone to give serious consideration to and be thoughtful about the causes that matter to them. “Nobody knows what will happen throughout their lives, so each day needs to be lived to the fullest,” she says. “I encourage people to do their homework and talk to others. If you are considering a planned gift, there are folks at the CDC Foundation who are happy to have that conversation and answer questions.”

Explaining their confidence in their legacy decisions, Monroe says that because of the Foundation’s intersectional place within the public health ecosystem, it is positioned for prudent use of philanthropic donations in conjunction with pre-existing tax dollars. As she says, “We are all taxpayers. As a taxpaying citizen, you have already put money into public health. When you contribute to the Foundation, you enhance and leverage those dollars. You are able to have greater impact on public dollars because of your additional philanthropic dollars.”

It has been a long and sometimes unexpected journey from rural medicine and small-scale giving to public health leadership and long-term philanthropy, but in the end Monroe’s passions and focus remain the same: building connections and prioritizing education. And with their legacy giving decisions, Monroe and Lubitz are ensuring that these passions will be supported far into the future.


For more information, please contact Helene Erenberg at herenberg@cdcfoundation.org.