Turning great ideas into healthier communities


Leaders, Visionaries, and Pioneers Changing the World

January 15, 2020 | Mary Pittman, PHI President and CEO

I have been fortunate in my career to have had as teachers, mentors, and colleagues some wonderful visionaries who have been passionate about improving public health and achieving more equitable communities for all. They influenced what I studied, where I focused my work efforts, and how I viewed the critical role of community activism as a public health tool.

One of the most influential of these champions of public health was Dr. Leonard Duhl, who passed away on December 28 at age 93. I first met Len in 1978, when he was one of my public health and city and regional planning professors at UC Berkeley. He advised me on my dissertation, and we worked collaboratively on the Coalition for Healthy Cities and Communities for more than ten years.

Len’s long and impactful career spanned the globe as he applied social science, urban planning and policies, as well as psychiatric and mental health services and policy to populations marginalized for any reason—their lack of money (not impoverished because the spirit can be rich without money), the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their health status, or other factors that have been used to keep people from reaching their potential. Len was always ahead of his time in his approach to building coalitions and community. Working in many different venues—such as WHO, Federal Government, county government in California, and academia at the UC Berkeley Schools of Public Health and City and Regional Planning—Len always applied the best science and writing to his work in building coalitions for social change.

Len worked with colleagues around the globe to launch the Healthy Cities Movement in the US. He worked with Joe Hafey and Joan Twiss to launch the California Healthy Cities program that strengthened local health departments and communities around the state. Colleagues around the US are indebted to his contributions to the Coalition of Healthier Cities and Communities, that at its peak had 1,500 communities around the country sharing their experiences and challenges. In the very early days of the internet, Len saw the potential for technology to be used to connect people to build powerful coalitions for health. He urged people to write up stories well before storytelling was seen as an effective organizing tool. He also felt that public-private partnerships and working collaboratively with government to create beneficial policies was the best sustainability lever we had to improve health for all.

I will miss Len and his infectious smile, his encouraging words, and his ability to bring so many people together in a common quest to achieve a healthy society. You can read more about his life and contributions in this article



Mary Pittman is the President and CEO of the Public Health Institute