Brownson installed as Bernard Becker Professor​

​Expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology carrying on legacy of noted ophthalmologist

​​Brownson and his wife, Carol, enjoy a lighthearted moment during his installation ceremony Oct. 8 as the Bernard Becker Professor. (Credit: Whitney curtis/WUSTL Photos)

Ross C. Brownson, PhD, a leading expert in chronic disease prevention and applied epidemiology at Washington University in St. Louis, was installed as the Bernard Becker Professor in an Oct. 8 ceremony. Brownson holds joint appointments at the Brown School and in Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Brownson’s professorship is named after the late Bernard Becker, MD, and is the fifth professorship affiliated with the noted university scholar. When Becker died in 2013, the professor emeritus of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the School of Medicine left an extraordinary list of enduring contributions to teaching and scholarship spanning six decades.

He also generously supported the department he headed from 1953-88 as well as the university’s medical library. Through his leadership, scientific advancements and personal philanthropy, Becker’s legacy lives on, most recently in the establishment of the Bernard Becker Professorship.

“A hallmark of Bernie Becker’s long and storied life was his deep conviction that he was here to help others, and he would provide whatever support was needed, be it time, mentorship or funding,” said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “He was especially generous to Washington University, and our institution has been enhanced greatly by his teaching, research and philanthropy.”

“I’m delighted that Ross Brownson is the first holder of the Bernard Becker Professorship,” said Edward Lawlor, PhD, Brown School dean, the William E. Gordon Distinguished Professor of Social Work and founding director of the university’s Institute for Public Health.

“Ross is an eminent scholar whose research is advancing the study of chronic disease prevention in America and globally,” Lawlor said. “He is a champion of evidence-based practice in public health and one of the great leaders of the profession.”

Ross Brownson

After earning his doctorate in environmental health and epidemiology from Colorado State University, Brownson began working for the Missouri Department of Health. He first worked as a cancer epidemiologist and soon became the founding director of a division dedicated to the prevention and control of chronic diseases. In 1994, he joined the faculty of Saint Louis University’s School of Public Health, serving as chair of the Department of Community Health.

His association with Washington University began in 2008, where he now serves as faculty at the Brown School and at the Department of Surgery within the School of Medicine. He co-directs the Prevention Research Center, which focuses on translational research aimed at improving efforts in chronic disease prevention in a range of public health, community and policy settings.

An important aspect of translation is workforce development. To support the training of public-health practitioners, Brownson led the development of a course on evidence-based decision making. Through this program, his teams have trained over 1,400 public health practitioners and leaders, spanning 50 states, 34 countries and four continents.

Brownson is the author of seven books and more than 350 peer-reviewed articles. His publications include “Chronic Disease Epidemiology and Control,” “Applied Epidemiology, Evidence-Based Public Health,” and “Dissemination and Implementation Research in Health: Translating Science to Practice,” which he co-authored with Washington University colleagues Enola Proctor, PhD, the Shanti K. Khinduka Distinguished Professor and associate dean for faculty at the Brown School; and Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH, deputy director of the Institute for Public Health and the Niess-Gain Professor of Surgery at the School of Medicine.

Brownson is an associate editor of the “Annual Review of Public Health” and on the editorial board of six other journals.

Brownson has received numerous awards for his work. Among them are the Abraham Lilienfeld Award for outstanding contributions in teaching and mentoring (from the American Public Health Association) and the Charles C. Shepard Science Award (the highest award for science from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Additionally, he has been noted as one of the most productive public-health scholars and Thomson Reuters recently named him as one of the world’s most influential scientific minds.

His service includes seven years on the U.S. Task Force on Community Preventive Services and membership on four committees of the Institute of Medicine. Brownson also is a former board member of the American Cancer Society (Missouri Division) and the Missouri Institute for Community Health and a former president of the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors.

Active in the American College of Epidemiology, he is the immediate past-president, former chair of their policy committe and current member of the board of directors.

About Bernard Becker

Becker was a world-renowned scientist known best for his landmark research on the diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness.

Recruited to Washington University from Johns Hopkins University, Becker overcame many challenges to transform the fledgling department into one of distinction, according to Michael Kass, MD, the Bernard Becker Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, who also chaired the department that Becker made famous.

“In his long and distinguished tenure, he built one of the country’s best ophthalmology departments and created a model for residency programs,” Kass said in his 2013 obituary. “He was such an outstanding mentor and scientist that it’s difficult to overstate his contributions to the university and to science.”

As a teacher, Becker influenced two generations of ophthalmologists and was so beloved by his students, patients and colleagues that they raised funds to endow two professorships in his honor, the Janet and Bernard Becker Professorship in Ophthalmology and the Bernard Becker Professorship in Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

With his wife, Janet, Becker made many contributions in support of the School of Medicine. They established endowment funds for glaucoma research, the Bernard Becker Medical Library, and the Center for the History of Medicine, and they provided generously for professorships in ophthalmology and for the director of the Bernard Becker Medical Library.

The Bernard Becker Collection in Ophthalmology and Optics, a donation of his personal library of rare books, is a significant addition to the Medical Library’s special collections.

Outside the classroom and the laboratory, Becker played a leading role in advancing the medical field of ophthalmology. He was instrumental in shaping the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, once serving as its president. He also was a director of the American Board of Ophthalmology. He helped found the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology and helped establish and served in a variety of leadership capacities at the National Eye Institute.​

For more on Becker, visit here.