Stephen B. Thacker, MD, MSc
RADM (Retired), US Public Health Service
Throughout 37 years at CDC, Dr. Stephen B. Thacker was a leader of public health science and the professionals who practice that science. He served as the Director of the Office of Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services (2010–2012), Director of the Office of Workforce and Career Development (2004–2010), and Director of the Epidemiology Program Office (1989–2004), as well as Acting Director of multiple centers. In all positions, he was a steadfast champion of epidemiology, public health surveillance, and development of a global public health workforce. He fostered efforts to identify, introduce, and disseminate innovative scientific methods and technology throughout the world. He initiated use of analytic methods that are now used routinely, and he spearheaded efforts for using meta-analyses and systematic reviews. He is recognized widely as a skilled arbiter of complex scientific problems and has led multiple expert panels.
As a committed steward of CDC’s programs, Dr. Thacker ensured their viability, credibility, and scientific rigor; he is also known for his commitment to trainees who are the future of public health. For more than 20 years, he reviewed the articles to be published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. He was instrumental in development of Epi Info™ and the Guide to Community Preventive Services. Programs developed or expanded under his leadership (e.g., the Epidemic Intelligence Service [EIS] Program, the Public Health Informatics Fellowship Program, the Public Health Prevention Service, and the Prevention Effectiveness Fellowship) have introduced thousands of professionals to careers in public health. Programs for middle and high school students and teachers have brought epidemiology directly into classrooms. He also was instrumental in launching the Field Epidemiology Training Programs in more than 35 countries.
Dr. Thacker earned an undergraduate degree from Princeton University (1969), a medical degree from Mount Sinai School of Medicine (1973), and a master’s of science from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (1984). His accomplishments have been recognized through more than 40 major awards and commendations. Among his greatest honors are the Philip S. Brachman Friend of EIS Award (2002), the Charles C. Shepard Lifetime Scientific Achievement Award (2009), and the Surgeon General’s Medallion (2013). Through more than 240 publications on public health surveillance, meta-analyses, infectious diseases, environmental public health, injury prevention, sports medicine, and other topics, his influence on public health practice will continue well into the future.
Dr. Thacker’s accomplishments are only exceeded by his treatment of all persons with dignity, honesty and respect. Perpetually affable, he always had time for a chat about a recently read book, the latest movie watched with his family, or a victory by his girls’ basketball team. Dr. Thacker serves as a source of inspiration and motivation for all who knew him through his integrity, dedication, and passion.
Dr. Stephen B. Thacker passed away on February 15, 2013 at his home in Atlanta, Georgia from complications of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Dr. Thacker was a true public health hero, family man and believer in social justice. His legacy will continue to be felt throughout the world of public health.