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A Lifetime of Public Health Practice

Alumnus Richard Windsor playing rugby in 1976

PHOTO: As an assistant professor at the Bloomberg School in 1976, Richard Windsor played for the Baltimore Rugby Club.

"It's time to invest and help the next generation." 

Bloomberg School alumnus Richard Windsor pioneered methods to encourage pregnant women to stop or reduce their smoking.

As principal investigator of NIH clinical trials from 1980 to 2010, Windsor and his primary care colleagues developed evidence-based counseling methods for prenatal care among Medicaid patients.

Windsor’s widely cited studies showed that a tailored cessation guide and short counseling session provided to pregnant smokers by a professionally trained health educator during regular prenatal care could produce quit rates from 10 to 14 percent in public and from 22 to 25 percent in private prenatal care settings.

Bloomberg School faculty in Health Policy and Management and in what was then the department of Maternal and Child Health later worked with Windsor to apply these methods among low-income pregnant women in Baltimore.

After Windsor graduated from what was then the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in 1976 and served one year as what was then the department of Behavioral Sciences faculty, the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) recruited him to help found its school of public health. Windsor became the founding chair of the Department of Health Behavior and played an integral role in securing the school’s successful Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) accreditation during its first decade.

In 2014, Windsor helped endow a scholarship for Population, Family and Reproductive Health students "committed to improving the health of pregnant women and infants in the U.S." 

Karen Kruse Thomas, Bloomberg School Historian, spoke with Windsor about his public health career and why he supports the School’s scholarship programs.


Where did you grow up and what was your family like?

Neither of my parents graduated from high school. I grew up in a low-income, blue collar family. We lived near Lexington Market in inner-city Baltimore.

What is your educational background and how did that lead you into public health?

After serving honorably for four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, I graduated with honors in 1969 from Morgan State in Baltimore. At the University of Illinois, I completed my MS (1970) and PhD (1972), with concentrations in health promotion, educational and social psychology, and evaluation research methods. Oxford University Press published my textbook, Evaluation of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Programs, which is now in its fifth edition!

During my graduate research on the health risks of alcohol, tobacco and drug use, I realized that no U.S. researchers were evaluating the effects of maternal smoking during pregnancy on infant health and development. I decided I needed a stronger background in public health, maternal and child health, and clinical services.

Even though most postdoctoral positions in maternal and child health were clinical positions, not for PhDs, then-chair chair of Maternal and Child Health at Johns Hopkins, Don Cornely, selected me for a postdoctoral fellowship that included clinical observation at Johns Hopkins Hospital. I wanted absolute saturation in public health, maternal and child health, and health services research, so I earned an MPH.

What public health achievements are you most proud of?

When I went to UAB in 1977, I was in a small group of faculty that prepared the initial CEPH accreditation report for the school of public health and my department. I was in the ideal environment at UAB, which was growing by leaps and bounds. The dean and I asked, “Where is the science at now, and how do we improve it?” It was 1970s Alabama, and we wanted to examine the many areas of health deficits, especially those in maternal and child health.

After the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Pregnancy came out in 1979, I was PI and collaborated with other UAB faculty and William Roper, the Jefferson County health commissioner, to conduct the first U.S. randomized trial of tailored behavioral programs to facilitate smoking cessation and reduction in pregnancy. These trials were one of the sequential building blocks throughout my career to improve the quality, breadth and depth of primary care programs to reduce the health risks of maternal smoking for unborn babies. [Roper later directed the federal Health Care Financing Administration as well as the CDC.]

I applied what I had learned at the University of Illinois and Johns Hopkins to use science to solve population-based problems. We tested new routine assessment methods, such as collecting saliva to precisely measure levels of smoking in patients. As researchers, we had to provide the leadership and the practical arguments, with colleagues in practice, to guard against compromising scientific principles. Our findings showed the effectiveness of adding saliva tests for smoking as a routine measurement at the first and third prenatal visits.

What’s your philosophy of giving and why did you choose to give to the Bloomberg School?

When I turned 70 in 2014, I felt fortunate that I had chosen a career I loved. After 40 years as [a] tenured faculty [member], I thought about what I wanted to invest in that would be important to me.

When I saw the Centennial Scholars matching gift program, I was excited and decided to endow a scholarship for Population, Family and Reproductive Health students who are committed to improving the health of pregnant women and infants in the U.S.

Hopkins is the only institution I’ve given to. They supported me at a sentinel time in my career, and it’s time to invest and help the next generation.

Richard Windsor’s scholarship is a great example of the ways the recently concluded Rising to the Challenge Campaign for Johns Hopkins has strengthened research and education programs at the Bloomberg School.

See more campaign highlights