David Sencer

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 25 May 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3276
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. Janice{at}

Guided and built the US public health agency

David Sencer, who served as head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for 11 years from 1966 to 1977, was “a giant in public health” who lost the job he loved for doing the right thing—trying to immunise the American public against an epidemic.

“My dad’s best accomplishment was not a single achievement but building the CDC community, which reaches around the world. He always put people first, and he knew what was going on everywhere. He’d drop in on people and ask what they were doing—and he’d remember,” said his son Stephen, general counsel and vice president of Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.

Eradication of smallpox

Thomas Frieden, the current head of CDC, called Sencer a public health giant and said that two of his key contributions were the eradication of smallpox and the founding of the school of public health at Emory University, across the street from the CDC in Atlanta.

Sencer was an invaluable leader during a period when the agency expanded. Elvin Hilyer, who was Sencer’s …

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