Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Dr. Eugene Gangarosa
By Judy Monroe, MD
Dr. Eugene “Gene” J. Gangarosa, MD, MS, who passed away on August 11, 2022, at age 96, truly embodied compassion and commitment to improving the lives of others. His storied career spanned more than 70 years, and the results of his research and work on safe water initiatives has saved millions of lives and continues to have impact. A few weeks ago, our team had the opportunity to interview Gene and his wife of over 70 years, Dr. Rose Gangarosa, about the impact and legacy of their work.
Gene spent his career serving institutions for the public good, including: the U.S. Army Medical Corps at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—where he received the William C. Watson Jr. Medal of Excellence, CDC’s highest honor—American University of Beirut and Emory University’s School of Medicine. He played a key role in the evolution of Emory’s graduate program, now known as the Rollins School of Public Health.
“Gene was my supervisor when I was an EIS Officer in the Enteric Diseases Branch at CDC from 1974 to 1976, and we stayed in touch after that,” said Mark Rosenberg, MD, MPP, retired CDC employee of 20 years and president emeritus The Task Force for Global Health. “He was extraordinarily smart, generous, kind and totally dedicated to helping others through a life-long career in public health. His soft voice and big heart made it easy to underestimate his strength and courage, but he never shrank from taking on the toughest of challenges.”
Through the years, Gene and Rose have demonstrated a tremendous commitment to improving safe water access. As epidemic cholera spread through South and Central America in 1991, Gene and Rose were instrumental in encouraging CDC to pursue operational research on practical, affordable and scalable technologies for ensuring water safety. In the 1990s, CDC research focused on local production of dilute hypochlorite solutions for water treatment, and on containers in which water could be safely chlorinated, transported and stored. The Gangarosas helped CDC organize a competition for engineering students to design safe water storage containers and supported publication of manuals on how to locally produce and market the hypochlorite solutions and containers.
“Gene’s passion for public health problem-solving was infectious, and his positivity, humility, diplomacy and good will brought people from many different sectors and institutions together for the common good,” said Eric Mintz, MD, MPH, retired team lead, Global Epidemiology Waterborne Diseases Prevention Branch at CDC, who spent more than 30 years at the agency. “Dr. Gangarosa led by example; his influence on the prevention and control of cholera and other diarrheal diseases through the provision of safe drinking water, sanitation and handwashing will continue to be felt for many decades to come.”
When a need arose to expand CDC efforts to address a growing cholera problem and widespread deficiencies in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services and infrastructure, Gene stood ready to provide mentorship as well as connections with potential partners from other sectors, such as Procter and Gamble.
In 2000, Gene and Rose established the Gangarosa Endowment for Safe Water to provide an ongoing source of support for CDC’s safe water initiatives. In 2004, they established The Center for Global Safe Water (now The Center for Global Safe WASH). Additionally, in 2016, the Gangarosas established a second fund, the Peggy, Paul and Ray Gangarosa Endowed Fund in honor of their children. Both endowments now provide support to College of Charleston public health student practicum experiences supervised by CDC scientists. These experiences further student career development and support CDC-led, globally-focused safe water initiatives.
“It is no exaggeration to say that Gene was truly a giant of public health, and yet he was a humble, kind, gentle soul who was unfailingly enthusiastic, encouraging and generous, with nothing delighting him more than the achievements and successes of others. As a mentor, a teacher, a guide and a sounding board, he was unmatched and irreplaceable,” said Robert Quick, MD, MPH, medical epidemiologist, Waterborne Diseases Prevention Branch, who retired after 30 years at CDC.
The Gangarosa endowments at the CDC Foundation have supported the evaluation of safe water stations in 180 rural Kenyan health facilities; the training of health workers about water treatment and hygiene, helping to promote safe water practices in thousands of clinics in Africa; the facilitation of safe water storage containers in rural Madagascar; and the sponsorship of public health students studying a safe water system project in Jolivert, Haiti, following the devastating earthquake of 2010.
On behalf of the CDC Foundation and our board of directors, we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Gene Gangarosa, a public health luminary. Our thoughts are with the Gangarosa family at this time. If you would like to make a donation in honor of Dr. Gangarosa’s life’s work in public health, please visit this link.
Judy Monroe, MD, is president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.