Former PHS, WHI leader Maureen Henderson dies

Public Health Sciences Division’s Cancer Prevention Program founder laid groundwork for many prevention studies
Dr. Maureen Henderson
A memorial service for Dr. Maureen Henderson, founder of the Public Health Sciences Division’s Cancer Prevention Program, will take place Dec. 14, 2 p.m. at Seattle's Saint James Cathedral. Center News file photo

Epidemiologist Dr. Maureen Henderson, founder of the Public Health Sciences Division’s Cancer Prevention Program, died Dec. 4. She was 86.

Henderson joined the Fred Hutch faculty in 1983, establishing the Cancer Prevention Program and leading it until 1994. She was a prolific researcher, publishing more than 60 papers. She retired from the Center in 1998.

"Her vision in establishing a program in cancer prevention that was multidisciplinary was much in evidence when I first came to Seattle," said former Women’s Health Initiative Seattle Clinical Center principal investigator Dr. Shirley Beresford, who knew Henderson for more than 25 years. "The inclusion of medical, epidemiological, statistical and behavioral scientists all working together to solve a public health problem related to cancer prevention paid dividends in laying the groundwork for many cancer prevention research studies."

Henderson’s WHI legacy

Henderson, professor emeritus of epidemiology and medicine at the University of Washington, was instrumental in establishing WHI and contributed to some of the study’s seminal papers. Fred Hutch is home to WHI’s Clinical Coordinating Center.

"Her determination, intellect and advocacy for the diet and cancer hypothesis was critical in the development of the Women’s Health Initiative, a program that has had a clear and lasting impact on women’s health," said Dr. Garnet Anderson, WHI principal investigator. "In the early formative years of the WHI, she was a leader in both the Clinical Coordinating Center and the Seattle Clinical Center. The continuing impact of the WHI is certainly part of her legacy."

Dr. Ross Prentice, senior vice president and PHS director, said Henderson made her mark both nationally and internationally. She was appointed to 45 national advisory panels and five international committees over the span of her career. Henderson served as president of the Society for Epidemiologic Research and the American Epidemiological Society, and she was the first Center inductee into the Institute of Medicine. Among many honors, in 1999 she was awarded the Order of the British Empire for her work by Queen Elizabeth II.

'An outstandingly good person'

Henderson was born in Tynemouth, England, in 1926. She earned her medical degree and diploma in public health at the University of Durham. After training with several noted British epidemiologists, she immigrated to the U.S. into faculty positions at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins. She relocated to UW in 1975, where she taught and oversaw interdisciplinary research centers.

Henderson was an "important leader among her peers, a great mentor, and a vigorous proponent for improved health based on good research," said Dr. Robert Day, Fred Hutch president and director emeritus.

"Maureen was a friend to many, always stimulating us to do more and do it better," Day said. "Her humor, friendliness and caring were gifts appreciated by many. Her scientific leadership was of the highest order. She led us to think, write and practice as better professionals by following her example. She was an outstandingly good person. My life was greatly improved from knowing and working with her. We will miss her."

Memorial service Dec. 14

A memorial service for Henderson will take place Friday, Dec. 14, 2 p.m. at Seattle's Saint James Cathedral, 804 Ninth Ave.

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