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Dr. Stephen B. Thacker: A Public Health Leader, Family Man & Coach

Stephen B. Thacker, MD, MSc, RADM/ASG (ret.), US Public Health Service, passed away on Friday, February 15, 2013 at his home in Atlanta, Georgia.


Throughout his 37 years at CDC, Dr. Thacker was a leader of public health science and the professionals who practice that science.  He served as the Director of the Office of Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services (2010–2012), Director of the Office of Workforce and Career Development (2004–2010), and Director of the Epidemiology Program Office (1989–2004), as well as Acting Director of multiple centers.  In all positions, he was a steadfast champion of epidemiology, public health surveillance, and the development of a global public health workforce.  He fostered efforts to identify, introduce, and disseminate innovative scientific methods and technology throughout the world.  He initiated use of analytic methods that are now used routinely, and he spearheaded efforts for using meta-analyses and systematic reviews.  He was recognized widely as a skilled arbiter of complex scientific problems and has led multiple expert panels.


As a committed steward of CDC’s programs, Dr. Thacker ensured their viability, credibility, and scientific rigor; he was also known for his commitment to trainees, as the future of public health.  He himself began his CDC career as an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) Officer in 1976.  For more than 20 years, he reviewed articles to be published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.  He was instrumental in the development of Epi Info™ and the Guide to Community Preventive Services.  Programs developed or expanded under his leadership (e.g., the EIS Program, the Public Health Informatics Fellowship Program, the Public Health Prevention Service, and the Prevention Effectiveness Fellowship) have introduced thousands of professionals to careers in public health.  Programs for middle and high school students and teachers have brought epidemiology directly into classrooms.  He also was instrumental in launching the Field Epidemiology Training Programs in more than 35 countries.


Dr. Thacker held an undergraduate degree from Princeton University (1969), a medical degree from Mount Sinai School of Medicine (1973), and a master’s of science from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (1984).  His accomplishments were recognized through more than 40 major awards and commendations.  Among his greatest honors were the Philip S. Brachman Friend of EIS Award (2002), the Charles C. Shepard Lifetime Scientific Achievement Award (2009), and the Surgeon General’s Medallion (2013).  Through more than 240 publications on public health surveillance, meta-analyses, infectious diseases, environmental public health, injury prevention, sports medicine, and other topics, his influence on public health practice will continue well into the future.


Dr. Thacker’s accomplishments were only exceeded by his treatment of all persons with compassion, dignity, honesty, and respect.  Perpetually affable, he always had time for a chat about a recently read book, the latest movie watched with his family, or a victory by his girls’ basketball team.  Dr. Thacker served as a source of inspiration and motivation to all those he met through his integrity, dedication, and passion.


Born in 1947 to humble beginnings in Independence, Missouri, Dr. Thacker was an only child. His love of sports began at a young age and lasted throughout his life. He was a champion of women's athletics and coached girls basketball at his daughter’s alma mater, St. Pius X Catholic High School, for over 20 years. Dr. Thacker also was a devoted family man, dedicated to his wife Luz, and his children, Maria and Gabriella. He will be dearly missed by family, friends, and co-workers.


Dr. Thacker died from complications of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.


He is survived by his wife Luz Fortes Thacker, daughters Maria T.F. Thacker Goethe and Gabriella C. B. Thacker, and grandson Noah. The funeral will be held on Saturday, March 9, 2013, at 10:30 a.m. at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, 2855 Briarcliff Rd NE, Atlanta, GA 30329.  A reception will follow the service at The Retreat at Perimeter Summit beginning at 12:30 p.m.  Both are open to the public.  Details can be found at


The CDC Foundation is also honoring Dr. Thacker's life and service to public health and the Epidemic Intelligence Service. 

Dr. Stephen B. Thacker, 65: Helped identify Legionnaires disease


By: Michelle E. Shaw
Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Link: Click Here

Dr. Steve Thacker understood the concept of trial by fire.

In 1976, on his second day as an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Thacker was sent to Philadelphia to investigate an unknown illness outbreak among attendees of an American Legion convention at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel.

That investigation will forever be recorded in CDC history as well within the realm of public health as the first time Legionnaires’ disease was identified.

“Steve has done so much to make the CDC what it is,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC. “He insisted on rigorous science and he never lost sight of what was important, in terms of helping people live longer, healthier lives and addressing social justice.”

Stephen B. Thacker, of Atlanta, died Friday from complications of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, an degenerative neurological illness that causes rapid deterioration of the brain. He was 65. A memorial service is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on March 9 at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, Atlanta. SouthCare Cremation and Funeral Society was in charge of the cremation.

After Thacker graduated from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in 1973 and completed his residency in family medicine in 1976 at Duke University School of Medicine, his eye was squarely on public health, said his wife, Luz M. Fortes Thacker.

“He knew early on that his mission was not to be a clinical, practicing physician,” she said. “He wanted to serve and it is not something he would go around talking about, but he was on a mission to serve the public good.”

Thacker began his CDC career in Washington, D.C., but by 1979, he relocated to Atlanta to continue his work as an EIS officer. He remained at his job as long as his health allowed, his wife and daughter said. Earlier this month the CDC held an appreciation ceremony for Thacker and has named two awards for him, Frieden said, one recognizing promoters of social justice and the other identifying those who seek to mentor others.

“I can think of nobody who is more exemplary of the mission of the CDC and of public health,” said Dr. David Satcher, director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine and former CDC chief. “He had a tremendous commitment to public health and that is why he was able to do so many different jobs at the CDC. Whenever there was a need for someone to step in, he was always willing to do that and to continue what he was already doing.”

For all he did at work for people across the globe, he also delighted in his role as a husband, father and grandfather, his daughter said.

“He coached whatever we were into,” said Maria T.F. Thacker Goethe, his eldest daughter.

Ron Sattele, a friend of more than 20 years, relished the time he got to spend coaching basketball with Thacker.

“Only in basketball was he my assistant,” Sattele joked. “Because he’s brilliant, right? But basketball was his release and he became my assistant.”

Goethe said her father’s legacy goes beyond being a great father, basketball coach, scientist and researcher.

“He was a humble man and showed great compassion,” his daughter said. “He just wanted to make this world a healthier place and he hoped others would do the same.”

In addition to his wife and daughter, Thacker is survived by his youngest daughter, Gabriella C.B. Thacker; and one grandson.

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