Common Threads Lead Alumna to Establish Scholarship
Carol Lewis, MPH '68 established the Ruth Rice Puffer Fund for International Student Support to honor her mentor and support public health professionals in Latin America
EVERY MORNING FOR WEEKS ON END, Ruth Rice Puffer got up exactly 45 minutes earlier than usual to embroider a tablecloth to give as a wedding present. To ensure the tablecloth would be finished in time, she calculated how many hours would be required for this exquisitely detailed task, and then divided the total by the number of days left until the wedding. It was this unique combination of vision, creativity, persistence and mathematical acumen that had made her one of the twentieth century’s leading public health statisticians.
Puffer (1907-2002) had studied with the renowned Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Wade Hampton Frost and spent most of her career at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which recognized her among its Centennial Public Health Heroes. PAHO was also where she met Carol Lewis, a U.S. Public Health Service officer assigned to PAHO. Dr. Puffer recognized the role that medical records played in vital and health statistics, and when she learned that Lewis spoke Spanish, she arranged for the USPHS to assign her to PAHO to serve as a consultant in Argentina.
Lewis credits Puffer for her passion for good data and her “meticulous dedication to detail” in proofing and fact-checking every report, even though in the days before computerized word processing, a single error might mean retyping an entire document. Another example of Puffer’s dedication to planning and excellence was preparing the first draft of a discussion document for a PAHO Technical Committee a full year in advance to allow plenty of time for refining.
Lewis specialized in medical records management—the forerunner of the modern field of health informatics—and earned a Master of Public Health from Hopkins in 1968. Through her Latin American experience, Lewis appreciated the opportunities and problems that were inherent in information management everywhere, and in the 1980s, she became actively involved in the International Federation of Health Records Organizations (now International Federation of Health Information Management Associations). She also has been involved with the Education and Implementation Committee of the World Health Organization’s Family of International Classifications, which provides a common framework for population health data that governments, providers and consumers can use to make meaningful comparisons within and among national health statistics.
Lewis felt strongly that "someone who has made as many contributions as Dr. Puffer deserves to be recognized," and she established a scholarship in Puffer’s honor for foreign public health professionals. Puffer herself was pleased to contribute to the fund.
Ivan Marbaniang, recipient of the 2015 Ruth Rice Puffer Fund for International Student Support, with the Fund's benefactor, Carol Lewis.
“All I have is what I’ve earned, but I was able to fund the scholarship a little at a time. So many people think that a contribution must be large to be meaningful, but small amounts over time, put together with gifts from others, can do the same thing.”
—Carol Lewis, MPH '68
A fitting sentiment to honor a woman who meticulously stitched together her legacy, be it a tablecloth or a mortality table, one thread at a time.
To learn more about endowed scholarships and other giving opportunities, please contact Heath Elliott, Senior Director of Development and Alumni Relations, at 410-502-5275.