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The 1879 Lecture was established in January 2021 as an opportunity to honor a
Cambridge Club member who has gone above and beyond in their service to the community. The Cambridge Club Executive Board selects honorees.
In 2021, the 1879 lecture honored Francis H. Duehay (1933-2020). Our speaker was Chief Public Health Officer Claude Jacob. On February 9 he spoke about The Health of Cambridge: A Tale of Two Cities.
Good evening. It's my honor to introduce this first special 1879 Cambridge Club session focused on public health in Cambridge. This lecture is dedicated to Frank Duehay, former mayor and longtime city councillor, who served for four years as the chair of the board of the Cambridge Health Alliance and on its board for 12 years. He was also a member of the Cambridge Club.
There couldn’t be a more perfect person to dedicate this year’s lecture to than Frank Duehay who initiated so many efforts to increase the health of Cambridge residents-- within the public hospital setting and through community public health efforts. Tonight, I’m going to tell you about one influential public health initiative that Frank introduced. In 1990 Frank initiated a community health study called the Health of the City, I think funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. The goal was to challenge the city of Cambridge to look for critical prevention methods to improve the health of Cambridge residents. Frank convened a broad task force, uniting Cambridge doctors and other health professionals with community members to analyze the most important things we could do as a city to address health disparities. It was unusual to bring doctors out of their medical settings to work with community members.
The conclusion of this initial task force was to set up two new task forces: one addressing the health of men of color and one focused on school children. The impact of those two task forces is still felt today, addressing health disparities in two population groups.
This happened because Frank was a system thinker and extremely strategic. Through the Health of the City efforts he thought of building a scaffolding to build a variety of efforts and funding streams to improve Cambridge health for years to come.
Let me tell you a little about the continuing impact from 1990: the Men of Color Task Force pushed for the creation of a position at Cambridge Hospital that concentrated on outreach to Black men, a group of people who were historically reluctant to engage with the health system. The men of color task force has turned into the Men’s Health League whose signature efforts emphasize going where men are rather than expecting them to come to clinics.
As for the Healthy Children Task force, working with former CHA pediatrician David Link, I, myself, had the opportunity to serve as its co-chair throughout my career as a city councillor. That task force was the base of nationally recognized research on physical activity and healthy eating. One of my favorite Healthy Children Task Force initiatives was early sponsorship of City Sprouts which went on to found school gardens all over Cambridge and beyond. Another initiative we supported was a study of soda and sweetened beverages consumption, conducted at CRLS. This study demonstrated the impact of consuming empty soda calories- and calories from other sugar sweetened beverages-- on childhood obesity. This study contributed to the removal of soda machines from high schools across the country!
Despite being in politics for decades Frank Duehay was never a showy politician. Instead he was a brilliant conductor of social action and social change. He perfected the method of including people in defining a problem and then engaging them in fixing it. He used this method time after time. Along with other civic leaders, I count myself incredibly lucky to have been mentored by him in this method. Through watching Frank Duehay at work we all learned lessons about how to make a difference.
To conclude, in Frank Duehay we had someone who embodied public service. He worked on Cambridge health in the hospital and in the community. And he also worked on affordable housing, on improving transportation and for the environment. It’s no wonder that tributes to him have called him Mr. Cambridge. A Cambridge hometown guy, Frank loved the city and always worked to make it a better place for all who live and work here. He will be missed.
—Henrietta Davis, 4 March 2021
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