Mr. Larry Gordon was inducted into the Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health in 1954, when he received a Master in Public Health degree from the University of Michigan. He subsequently created the nation’s first local environmental health department in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the New Mexico Environmental Agency, the New Mexico Scientific Laboratory System, and retired as Cabinet Secretary for Health and Environment prior to serving as a University of New Mexico (UNM) professor for 15 years.
In addition to his ground-breaking work as a sanitarian at the local and state levels, he also served in numerous leadership roles, including president of the American Public Health Association; a founder of the Council on Education for Public Health; and a founder of the American Academy of Sanitarians. UNM honored him with a Doctor of Humane Letters in 2007 "for his long-term commitment and leadership in the areas of environmental and public health."
Through his commitment to the protection and advancement of the health of all people, Mr. Gordon put the founding Delta Omega ideals into practice during his career as a public health leader and educator. In January 2012, the National Office had the opportunity to ask Mr. Gordon a few questions about his work in public health and what the society means to him.
In January 2012, the National Office had the opportunity to ask Mr. Gordon a few questions about his work in public health and what the society means to him.
Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us. In your mind, what is the most important change you’ve seen in the public health field from when you were first inducted into the society in 1954?
Mr. Gordon: Many problems have been ameliorated, but over-population and demographic changes have created new and often more complex issues such as global climate disruption, and water and energy shortages. Additionally, many schools of public health no longer view educating practitioners as a priority. This has been among the factors causing key leadership positions to be filled by practitioners other than public health professionals. Many appear to have lost sight of the important difference between public health and health care, resulting in an erosion of the priority of prevention and health promotion. And finally, the field of public health practice has largely evolved into two delivery systems: personal public health, and environmental health and protection.
When you learn someone is in Delta Omega, what does that mean to you? Do you see it as a certain kind of calling card?
I view it as a prime symbol of scholarly achievement, and/or recognitiom for outstanding performance as a public health practitioner, educator, or researcher.
Have you ever been given a key piece of advice that helped you in your career? Or, what would you say to new graduates looking to make their mark in the public health field?
Mr. Gordon: I have been extremely fortunate in having had guidance and role-modeling from numerous giants in my field of practice, and realize I have stood on the shoulders of such giants. I regret that most of them are no longer around to thank. In many cases, I did not fully appreciate their influences until years later. New graduates might be advised to seek out mentors.
The field of public health seems to be ever-changing and often invisible to the public it serves. What thoughts do you have on ensuring excellence and quality in such a dynamic and often underappreciated field?
Mr. Gordon : Many public and environmental health practitioners tend to operate in a professional vacuum and ignore the fact that they work for the public. Leadership requires complete openess, consistent marketing, routine discussions with the media, and engagment in the political process to ensure recognition, as well as understanding of problems, needs, and achievements. In the absence of such leadership, one can only expect to be unappreciated.
To learn more about Mr. Gordon and his career in public health, click here. To read a selection of his more than 240 professional and technical publications, click here.