Barbara K. Rimer Faculty Service Awards Speech

Barbara K. Rimer

When Doug Dibbert told me about this award, I read the names of previous awardees, some of you, impressively, among them, and felt, not just humbled, but unworthy. I am grateful to be among previous awardees and grateful for this awesome recognition.

Thank you, Doug and the GAA. You serve with distinction.

Thanks to Paula Brown Stafford and Todd Jones, who have served the Gillings School and Carolina in so many significant ways.

I am grateful to fellow deans for our remarkably collegial relationships. I’ve worked for 4 chancellors, including James Moeser, who, with Robert Shelton, appointed me, and for whom I have deep respect and admiration, and Kevin Guskiewicz, who, like Bob Blouin, is a former dean colleague, whose appointment as chancellor I celebrated. I have worked for 5 provosts, including Bob Blouin, whom I count a special colleague.

UNC-Chapel Hill is an institution I want to serve.

Service is part of my personal philosophy, ethics and behavior. I was brought up on it, believe in it and care about it. My father was influenced by Albert Schweitzer and his view that the only ones among us who will be truly happy are those who have found how to serve. I believe that.

I came of age under President Kennedy and was imprinted with “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” Millions of us believed it and were guided by it.

My views of service were refined by two stints at the NIH, first, early in my career, and then, many years later, as a senior leader. Those experiences taught me that some of the smartest, most committed people anywhere work for the federal government, some for a defined period in their lives. Think one of our own, Ned Sharpless, now, director of the NCI.

Second, those on the giving and receiving ends of funding, including us, are accountable for those funds. We always should ask ourselves what we did with the funding, and what difference it made. It’s about impact.

My second time at the NIH came after an explicit appeal to service, when director of the NCI, Rick Klausner, asked me to lead what became the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. I’d turned him down three times, because I’d recently gotten the center grant of my dreams. It was not the right time to leave. Then, Klausner played the Kennedy card.

One night after a National Cancer Advisory Board meeting, which I chaired, he drove me to the Jefferson Memorial. We looked across the Tidal Basin, toward the Washington Monument, and Rick reminded me about Kennedy and public service, and how the new division he wanted me to lead could shape the future of cancer control. He said it was my time to serve, and, then, I said yes.

Thanks to the election in 2000, and Jo Anne and Shelley Earp and Bill Roper, I returned to NC and UNC, initially, as a faculty member to work on cancer and then as dean of our wonderful school of public health. A special shout out for Shelley and Jo Anne, who are friends and colleagues I deeply admire and people who personify service. I was grateful to be at this event when Jo Anne was recognized.

I like fixing things, helping to make our people, school and university stronger, always keeping a focus on the people — our faculty, staff and, especially, our students. I am a professor and dean, a proudly public university employee and a state of NC employee, with accountability to school constituencies, citizens and leaders. Service is fundamental.

Serving is what I and most of us here do every day. We do it voluntarily and, mostly, joyfully. That contrasts to the Latin origin of the word service, from the Latin servitium (~1200), meaning slavery, servitude ( We lead by serving in many ways– mentoring school leaders and others; interacting with our many communities; advocating for faculty, staff and students; serving on university and other committees; and much more.

Service also means pushing for change so that our school and university thrive in the future. It means focusing intentionally on inclusive excellence, one of my highest priorities. Service means ensuring that we continue to have a strong practice role across the state, and that our research benefits the health of people and the planet, now and in the future.

I have been moved deeply by the way we at Gillings serve vulnerable communities, and one of the clearest examples is the Irongate community in Apex, mostly low income, black families who have lacked access to city water, making them dependent on inconsistent, often unsafe well water.

They called on members of our faculty to help make the case for connection to city water. Gillings people came, collected and analyzed data. The data were used to make the case to city leaders, and now the neighborhood will have city water. My husband, Bernard, and I participated in a community meeting last summer where our faculty and students shared data with residents. One resident said: “We have been at this for so long, and I never thought we would get city water. We called the school of public health, and you came, and you helped us.” That’s the embodiment of Carolina Next’s initiatives “for the public good.” It is service of the best kind.

Service means using my voice to speak from a public health perspective on issues like the statue, because inequity and injustice are incompatible with healthy populations.

Service means embodying the values and behaviors we want in others: treating all people with respect, caring about every person, protecting the environment and giving generously.

In the end, service is a privilege for which I am grateful every day. For me, some of that privilege has been enabled by my husband of nearly 44 years, Bernard, who has been with me and willing to share me with the school, as I have been willing to share him with community organizations he serves. Even when I’ve left him with an empty seat at Memorial Hall at the last minute to stay at my desk, he has been gracious. Without Bernard, we’d never be able to have the family Labradors I love so much.

Thank you all so much for this honor.  I always will remember this evening as one of the treasured moments in my life.