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Population, Family and Reproductive Health

Laurie Schwab ZabinIn Memoriam

Laurie Schwab Zabin, PhD'79

It is with great sadness that we share that Laurie Schwab Zabin passed away Monday, May 11, 2020.

Professor Emerita in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health in the Bloomberg School, and founding Director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health in 1999, Laurie dedicated her professional life to protecting sexual and reproductive health, especially that of adolescents.

Dr. Zabin received her BA from Vassar College, MA from Harvard University and PhD in Population Dynamics from the Johns Hopkins.

In the 1950s, after family planning pioneer Alan F. Guttmacher delivered her first child and spoke to her of family planning, Zabin began volunteering with Planned Parenthood and later became director of the Maryland chapter. In 1974, when others usually wind down their careers, Zabin launched her second one, beginning a PhD in Population Dynamics (now Population, Family and Reproductive Health) at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health (now the Bloomberg School).

After graduating in 1979, Zabin was jointly appointed to Gynecology-Obstetrics in the School of Medicine and Population Dynamics in the School of Public Health. Her pioneering research on teen pregnancy, abortion and sexual attitudes and behavior among adolescents in the United States and abroad established her international reputation. She provided legal testimony in many cases supporting adolescent access to family planning services and helped found and served on the board of the Guttmacher Institute.

Laurie Schwab Zabin with Gates Institute colleaguesIn 1999, Zabin founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health with funding from the William H. Gates Foundation. The Gates Institute‘s mission of “Scholarship and Science for Social Change" continues, as the Institute plays a leading role advancing family planning and reproductive health in the developing world, through leadership programs, research, and translating evidence into policies and practice.

Zabin published widely, including scholarly articles, three books based on her adolescent research and many book chapters and reports, and was cited on the ISI List as one of the Most Highly Cited authors in the social sciences.

Before entering the research world, she served with Planned Parenthood –local, national and international– including as Acting Director and President of the Maryland affiliate. In the 1970's, she helped establish and served on the Board of Directors of the Guttmacher Institute, with a term as its Chair. In 2006, the Institute named her a lifetime emeritus director.

Laurie Schwab Zabin Abuja Conference 2011She was the 2003 recipient of the Carl A. Shultz Award of the American Public Health Association, and on the APHA Governing Council. She served on the National Academy of Sciences' Committee on the Behavioral and Social Science of AIDS, the Adolescent Health Committee of the American College of ObGyn, the International Center for Research on Women’s Advisory Committee, and on the Surgeon General's Select Consultant Work Group on Adolescent Pregnancy. Bridging the worlds of academia and practice, of advocacy and service, she received the annual ACLU of Maryland award for her work in reproductive rights, Planned Parenthood of Maryland’s Margaret Sanger award and the Irwin M. Cushner Award of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association for research that serves the provider and policy communities. Johns Hopkins established a Fellowship in Reproductive Health in her honor in 2002. She was the 2008 recipient of Vassar College’s annual award to a graduate for Distinguished Achievement and has been honored by the American Academy of Pediatrics – and by Johns Hopkins with its Heritage Award.

In gratitude for all Laurie contributed to the field, our school, and the department and to many of us personally and professionally.

If you would like to make a contribution to honor Laurie’s memory, please donate online or by check to the Laurie Schwab Zabin Scholarship Fund in Population, Family and Reproductive Health.

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“Dr. Zabin was a fearless and visionary leader who herself created many firsts. Laurie was and will continue to be an inspiration to generations of public health scholars in adolescent and sexual and reproductive health. She believed firmly in rigorous research and demanded its translation to impactful policies and programs.”

Cynthia Minkovitz, MD, MPP
William H. Gates, Sr. Professor and Chair
Population, Family and Reproductive Health, Bloomberg School of Public Health

Tribute to Professor Laurie Schwan Zabin

It is said that street lights don't show us where to go, they light up our paths so that we can see where we are going. Laurie was a street light - she lit up the RH path so we could see where we were going. It was such a delight to meet up with Laurie and to show her tools that you wanted to use to answer RH questions. She would ask you a couple of questions to get oriented and then she would turn on the street light to illuminate your path so clearly that you couldn't get lost. You would leave her presence with a smile on your face. Especially during these times when the world is confused and bemused, where is the street light coming from?

So, it is with heavy hearts that we write this tribute to Laurie Schwan Zabin, an indelible influence on us and our University in the areas of Population, Family Planning & Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health. We deeply appreciate and recognize her contribution to the development and growth of our Department of Family, Population and Reproductive Health at the KNUST School of Public Health, as it was nursed from the Department of Community Health in the School of Medical Sciences of the University.

On several occasions, we interacted productively with Laurie as individuals and as faculty through the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute of Population and Reproductive Health of the JHBSPH as partners in their global initiative for advancing family planning, reproductive health and strategic leadership in developing countries, she was very supportive of our programs in Ghana.

We bid her farewell and we shall forever cherish her memory in our hearts and the in annals of KNUST School of Public Health.

May She rest in peace

Kwabena Antwi Danso, Easmon Otupiri and Tsiri Agbenyega
Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana

"Laurie and I were both in the doctoral program of the Population Dynamics in the mid 1970s. We studied together for class exercises and exams, comprehensives and preliminary oral exams. Laurie started her doctoral program in midlife and in that regard served as a model and actually encouraged my wife to do the same. Laurie, as director of the Gates Institute, invited scholars from around the developing world to a summer program in family planning at the School and gave doctoral scholarships to exceptional candidates. During many years she would have wonderful parties for such Gates Institute visitors and department faculty at her beautiful home north of Baltimore. In addition, for a several years in the last decade she served as a resource person in my undergraduate class “Population, Health and Development” for the debate on whether minors needed parental notification before obtaining an abortion. She was superb in that role as she had testified in multiple states in hearings for legislation about the same topic."

Stan Becker, PhD
Population, Family and Reproductive Health, Bloomberg School of Public Health 

“I could say a lot about Laurie’s impact on my life. Professionally, the easiest way to sum it up is that if it weren’t for Laurie I never would have considered applying for the chair position here at Hopkins. She encouraged my application and prodded me to “come take a look”. I have been here ever since (2004). Laurie has had a profound impact on the field of adolescent health. In the late1990s and early 2000s there was a lot of support for school based clinical services (today it is relatively normative in the United States). At that time, however, there was little empirical evidence for such an approach having impact. Laurie’s work and publications on the Self-Center provided both empirical evidence that school clinics can impact unintended pregnancy but equally importantly, that research indicated what is needed for impact. We replicated that model in Minnesota prior to my coming to Hopkins; and so too, it was replicated in Santiago, Chile. Long before I knew her, I knew her work and her collaboration with Janet Hardy on adolescent pregnancy. This was the late 70’s and early 80’s when adolescent pregnancy was truly epidemic in the United States. Together with both Zelnik and Kantner, the work of Zabin and Hardy put adolescent pregnancy on the national agenda. Laurie merged rigorous science with passionate advocacy. There was never a question of why she did research; it was to make the world better for adolescents; and that is her legacy."

Robert Wm. Blum MD, PhD, MPH
Population, Family and Reproductive Health, Bloomberg School of Public Health

I had the privilege to met her in June 2000 in Managua, Nicaragua. The Institute conducted the Central American Strategic Leadership Course. We were more than 20 participants from all the countries of the region including the Caribbean. It was amazing to witness the enthusiasm and level of energy she devoted for all the participants to acquire the best managerial skills. Later I traveled with her in 2002 to Bangkok, Thailand to the Asian Conference on Reproductive Health where the Institute presented many papers. I had also the nice opportunity to visit her home and share with my wife very warm moments. All the time providing guidance and asking how we have applied the knowledge and skills learned.
Rest in Peace Laurie.

Oscar Cordon, MD, MPH
Fellow B&M Gates Institute of Reproductive Health

“Laurie was a true, natural champion and advocate for women and girls. Laurie and I shared an office suite at the Gates Institute, and I had the privilege of many late nights listening to Laurie’s life journey as a professor, researcher, as well as devoted sister, mother, and grandmother. Everyone was family to Laurie. A Gates Institute event always started with Laurie asking: Who is the Gates Institute? And with everyone replying in unison: We ARE the Gates Institute! Laurie will be missed!”

Sabrina Karklins, MPA
Sr. Program Officer II
Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health
Population, Family and Reproductive Health, Bloomberg School of Public Health

“Laurie Zabin was a force of nature—a singular woman who was impressively articulate and intelligent. She took an interest in everyone around her but especially students, for whom she advocated whenever we met. I remember having lunch with her in Uganda at the International Conference on Family Planning meeting. She was well into 80’s by that point, but her excitement, enthusiasm and intellectual engagement were effervescent. Laurie had an incredibly interesting life, and her stories about it were memorable. Her legacy will enrich our school and our lives forever. I will miss her.”

Michael Klag, MD, MPH
Professor, Epidemiology
Dean Emeritus, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

"I'll begin by confessing to the fact that almost everything I know about Dr Laurie Schwab Zabin is from the beautiful memorial piece I've just read, and from which I have found this email link to add my voice in celebrating this remarkable lady. Particularly gratifying is the bit about her defying the age factor and finding the higher gears "just when others would begin winding down their careers". Why this one? Because, not only have I become passionate about mitigating the teenage (school girl) pregnancies menace since I retreated to my village of birth in Western Kenya a couple of years back (in semi-retirement), but I was worried about my stage in life (read age!). Laurie has evidentially shown me that it's indeed never too late to begin (yet) again, even if it's for a few years! I am totally motivated to pursue the relevant research direction with a view to policies and implementation.

What a great legacy she has left behind. May her soul rest in eternal peace."

Gonzo Manyasi, PhD, MSc
Associate Professor, Dean of Faculty, Great Lakes University of Kisumu ( GLUK)

“When I was Chair of the Department of Population Dynamics, Laurie came to my office in 1975 to apply for a PhD. She brought along a CV which highlighted her remarkable record of advocacy and leadership over the past 3+ decades in Planned Parenthood in Maryland and later nationally. She made the case that she now wanted to get a PhD in order to be able to provide a solid research foundation to her growing interest in reaching adolescents and preventing unintended pregnancies. As I reviewed her credentials, it was clear that she had a stellar academic record from Vassar but her degree was in English literature. Unfortunately, there was nothing in her academic record that would qualify her for admission to a PhD in the department. Moreover, being in her 50s made admission even more problematical. As she liked to quote me from that interview, I said “It’s not that you are missing a prerequisite, you are missing every prerequisite.” But everything about her background, experience, high intellectual ability and strong motivation to embark on the rigors of a PhD assured me that she would be successful, so without consultation with others I admitted her. The rest is history.”

Henry Mosley, MD, MPH
Professor Emeritus
Population, Family and Reproductive Health, Bloomberg School of Public Health

"I was the first to invite me into her office for conversation without appointment and into her home for dinner as a new doctoral student. From that interaction to each one we had over the past 28 years, she continued to inspire and encourage. Laurie will be remembered for her life work, her ability to create possibilities, and her warm smile and hugs. Her influence can be measured not only by her legacy of establishing the Gates Institute at Johns Hopkins University or her research on adolescent reproductive health, but also in the work of the students she mentored, who carried forward in their own work Laurie’s optimism and dedication and her energy to contribute and lead."

Gita Pillai, PhD
Class of 2001

“Laurie leaves a powerful legacy as the founding director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health as well as her pioneering work on adolescent and youth sexual reproductive health and rights globally. Her bold thinking and generous spirit will live on. She is truly a Luminary in her field who has shown the path so others may emulate. I will miss her stories, many of them for the books!”

Jose G. Rimon II
Senior Scientist
Population, Family and Reproductive Health, Bloomberg School of Public Health
Director, Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health

“Laurie was a force of nature! She changed the way people viewed the need for reproductive services - from an age far earlier than society then accepted and kept changing the way the world thought about these issues ever-after. Her relationships, particularly with Bill Gates Sr., and her vision for what the Gates Foundation and the School of Public Health could accomplish in tandem, was instrumental in obtaining the first Gate’s grant to any academic institution, and ultimately in creating (and initially directing) the Gates institute, with its remarkable accomplishments. I think it is more than fair to say that Laurie’s was a “life well lived”, and that she enjoyed it all (including the adversities she often overcame). Her contributions to the study of reproductive health changed the field forever; the Gates Institute stands as an institutional memorial.”

Alfred Sommer, MD, MHS
Dean Emeritus, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

“Dr. Laurie Schwab Zabin was an intellectual force whose career at Hopkins began after two other successful ones and when many start to think about retiring. Fortunately, her zest for reproductive justice, adolescent health, and family planning, based on evidence that included her own contributions, did not deprive us of her many accomplishments over the ensuing four decades. She leaves an irreplaceable legacy in the minds and efforts of the leadership she inspired.”

Amy Tsui, PhD
Professor Emerita
Population, Family and Reproductive Health, Bloomberg School of Public Health


If you would like to share memories with our community, please email Deenah Darom.