Harris receives Turman Award

Turman Award

Among those honoring Turman Award recipient Virginia Bales Harris (center) were James and Berta Laney, former Emory president and first lady; RSPH Dean James Curran; Emory President James Wagner; Larry Prince, Tull Charitable Foundation board chairman; and Bobbi Cleveland, Tull Foundation executive director.

One of the mantras that has sustained Virginia Bales Harris 71C 77MPH during her successful career at CDC and longtime alumni leadership at Rollins is: “Never underestimate what people can do.”

That phrase applies to her own life as the recipient of the 2012 J. Pollard Turman Alumni Service Award, presented by the Emory Alumni Association. Named for the Emory graduate who became an influential humanitarian in Georgia, the award includes a $25,000 grant to Emory from the Tull Charitable Foundation, which Turman helped create. Emory President James Wagner presented the award to Harris during a ceremony in March.

“It feels really special to be recognized by people you honor and respect,” says Harris.

Her association with CDC began in 1970, when the chemistry major went to the agency in search of part-time work as a student. She learned much from the best and brightest, including then CDC director David Sencer, who later insisted that Harris enter the mph program that he co-founded with Emory faculty and which evolved into the RSPH.

During her 35 years at CDC, Harris championed programs dedicated to chronic illness education and prevention, including those for breast cancer, cervical cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, tuberculosis control, and smoking cessation for teenagers. Under CDC Director Jeffrey Koplan, Harris helped update the agency’s master plan and secure funding for new facilities visible from Emory today.

At the same time, she remained committed to Rollins, where she has held many volunteer leadership positions, including her current roles as RSPH alumni chair for Campaign Emory and Dean’s Council member. After retiring from CDC in 2005, Harris was named to the YMCA National Board of Directors and has been instrumental in developing the organization’s Activate America Program to help combat obesity and chronic disease.

“It was serendipity for me that I ended up in a place where my Emory education, my passion for science, public health, public policy, and service all came together at the same institution,” she says. “Working with Emory has been in some ways a release valve for me, a way of continuing to meet new and different kinds of people who are involved in my field but in a much broader sense.”

Harris was inspired to serve by her mentors, including her parents and David Sencer at CDC, who paid for her graduate education at Emory. Sencer himself once said of Harris, “Over the years, Ginny has continued to prove that she is capable of exceeding expectations and has become a role model for young people entering the public health field at CDC.”

In that spirit, Harris is matching her Turman award grant and designating that the $50,000 be used to support scholarships for students at Rollins.—Pam Auchmutey

To make a gift for student scholarships, please contact Michelle James, director of alumni and constituent relations, at 404-727-4740 or mjames4@emory.edu.

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