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Carol D’Onofrio
In Memoriam

Carol D’Onofrio

Professor of Public Health, Emerita

UC Berkeley
Carol Ann (Neisess) D’Onofrio was a beloved professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Public Health, who dedicated her career to cancer prevention, quality of life issues, and improving the lives of underserved communities.

An early alumna of the school’s health education program, which she later chaired, Carol’s career on the faculty at Berkeley spanned more than 30 years, and she earned numerous awards, including the school’s Alumna of the Year Award in 2009, the Distinguished Fellow Award of the national Society for Public Health Education, and the Heroes in Healthcare Lifetime Achievement Award given jointly by Alta Bates Summit Medical Center and the Alta Bates Summit Foundation. In 2018, she was named one of the 75 most outstanding alumna over the School of Public Health’s 75-year history and was present for the ceremony honoring these heroes.

Born February 24, 1936, in Conrad, MT, Carol grew up in Enterprise, OR and attended high school in Walla Walla, WA. With degrees in both English and education from the University of Washington, she graduated magna cum laude and was voted her university’s most outstanding woman. She then worked with the underserved in Chile as a Rotary Fellow, and subsequently in East Los Angeles, through the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, before coming to UC Berkeley for her M.P.H. (1960) and Dr.P.H. (1973).

Carol was one of the pioneers in “reaching the hard-to-reach” through community health education, and she developed and evaluated numerous public health programs for vulnerable populations, including youth, people of color, people with disabilities, the poor, and those in need of hospice care. She was particularly committed to preventing tobacco and alcohol abuse, promoting breast and cervical cancer screening, and the delivery of health services to cancer patients and the elderly. She was also years ahead of her time in studying and publishing on the then-common practice among grade school textbook authors of featuring sugary sweets as rewards for good behavior. She and coauthor Rosalind Singer then made the case to school textbook publishers for eliminating such anti-health messaging geared at young children.

Carol was principal investigator (PI) or co-PI on numerous grants, primarily in the area of cancer prevention. From 1985 to 1990, she led the nation’s first randomized controlled trial to prevent youth from both smoking and chewing tobacco—a study that involved youth in 4-H clubs from 38 California counties. For 20 years, she also worked on a series of studies on young women with breast cancer led by Professor Joan Bloom. And in 1995, when a comment by a woman with cerebral palsy diagnosed with a two-centimeter breast tumor led to recognition that women with disabilities were ignored in national, state, and local breast screening initiatives, Carol and five other women founded Breast Health Access for Women with Disabilities (BHAWD), a program that became a national model and changed this situation. In addition to her research as a Berkeley faculty member, Carol was an adjunct research scientist at the Northern California Cancer Center.

Carol was also a dedicated and gifted teacher. She was director of the School of Public Health’s health education program for many years, and her courses in areas from theories of health and social behavior to program planning and evaluation received high ratings. She helped decades of students sharpen their critical thinking and develop other skills needed for their own professional practice. She also was an inspiring mentor to both masters and doctoral students, offering lengthy interpersonal counseling in the days before email, handwriting copious notes on their papers and dissertation chapters, nominating them for awards, and taking great pride in their accomplishments.

In addition to her work in the School of Public Health, Carol provided considerable service to the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate. She served on the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) from 1975 to 1978 and from 1979 to 1981, and concurrently during her second term, on the Committee on the Status of Women and Ethnic Minorities (SWEM). From 1986 to 1988, she served both as Division vice chair and as a member of the Committee for Academic Planning and Resource Allocation (CAPRA), then from 1992 to 1995 on Graduate Council, and in 2003 to 2006, on the Committee on Rules and Elections.

Carol’s service beyond the university was equally impressive. She was an early president of the national Society for Public Health Education, and also served on the American Public Health Association’s Program Development Board and Governing Council. She served on numerous review panels for the National Institutes of Health and on the Board of Scientific Counselors for the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. In this context, she had the privilege of reviewing the concept for the National Black Leadership Initiative, voting to approve it, and subsequently participating in the crafting, review, and funding of the Hispanic Leadership and Appalachian Leadership initiatives. In this way, she became thoroughly familiar with the early history of Community Networks to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities. Locally, Carol served on  the Alta Bates Board of Trustees from 1989, and subsequently the Alta Bates Summit Board of Trustees, where she served two terms as board chair. She also was a member of the boards of the medical center’s Ethnic Health Institute and the Alta Bates Summit Foundation.

Carol died on April 14, 2020 at age 84, after a long struggle with cancer, leaving behind two children, Lisa and Michael, their spouses, and four grandchildren. She is deeply missed by her family and friends, as well as the legions of colleagues and former students at Berkeley and beyond, who remember her endless curiosity, vivacious personality, and skills as a researcher, teacher, and mentor. Two years before her passing, Carol reflected back on her career and noted that one of her greatest joys in teaching and mentoring was watching her students have an “Ah ha” moment, when their faces lit up as a new concept or theory suddenly made perfect sense. Countless students, colleagues, and underserved communities have benefited from her many gifts and the genuine interest she took in all who knew her.

Meredith Minkler
Joan Bloom