Dean Emeritus Lee Stauffer Passes Away

The second dean of the School of Public Health, Lee Stauffer, passed away at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, MN on July 21. Stauffer served as dean from 1970 to 1982 and guided the school to becoming a national research leader.

Current SPH dean, John Finnegan, shared the news of Stauffer’s death and legacy in the personal message sent to students, faculty, and staff shown below.

Dear SPH faculty, staff, and students:

It is with great sadness that I report the death of Lee Stauffer, Dean Emeritus of the School of Public Health, who passed away today at Regions Hospital. His children were with him and have informed us that a memorial will be scheduled next month or perhaps later. In the photo below from 2005, Lee stands on the right, with former SPH dean Edith Leyasmeyer and me.

Lee Stauffer with

Lee Stauffer (r) with Dean John Finnegan (l) and former dean Edith Leyasmeyer (c).

Lee served as the second dean of SPH from 1970 to 1982. He succeeded Dr. Gaylord Anderson, the school’s founding dean. Lee was dean when I started as a graduate assistant and staff member in 1980. Being near the bottom of the academic food chain in those days, I felt deans were a bit mysterious and distant. But when I first met Lee at an Epidemiology research function, I found a warm and generous individual with a strong handshake. I doubt that I made much of an impression upon him back then. Many years later, I got to know him much better as a gentle man with a mordant wit and as a great storyteller.

On a personal level, he was supportive of me in so many ways. I will miss my annual breakfasts with Lee at the Byerlys near his condo and sometimes at his former place in Scottsdale. We have been meeting at least once a year since I became dean in 2005, and more often as he attended various SPH events over the years. He tolerated my discussions of the ups and downs of “deaning,” as he called it, but always with a word of support and a story to illustrate that some things never change, and a reminder to focus on the great things one can accomplish in public health. He was a fierce supporter of the school. On more than one occasion, he illustrated that commitment with well-crafted letters to University presidents.

Lee graduated from the University of Nebraska with an eclectic bachelor’s degree that included English, education, science, and physical activity. His science training was sufficient for him to land a job as a sanitarian in the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department in 1951. That was the start of his interest in public health, as he told UMN historian Ann Pflaum in a 1999 oral history.

In fall 1952, he married his late wife, Donna, who wanted to study occupational therapy at the University of Minnesota. Lee intended to take a law degree at Nebraska, but switched instead to the University of Minnesota Law School. At the same time, he started working part-time in the University Health Service as a sanitarian under director Dr. Ruth Boynton, and with the Division of Environmental Health and Safety under Prof. Richard Bond.
By the end of his first semester, Lee said that the law was not the color of his parachute. He switched to public health, eventually earning an MPH at the school, as well as a faculty appointment. In 1962, he started work as an assistant to Dean Gaylord Anderson.

In 1966, Lee left the University for Miami where he took on the job of executive secretary of the American College Health Association. But 18 months later, he was drawn back to Minnesota and worked in continuing medical education. When Dean Anderson stepped down in 1970, Lee was asked by then health sciences Vice President Lyle French to step in as dean. It was the same year that today’s Academic Health Center was created with six independent schools and colleges headed by deans.

Lee’s contributions to the school were many over his career. But I believe that he played a key role in laying the groundwork for the school’s emergence as the research powerhouse that it is today. In his time as dean, public health began embracing the social and behavioral sciences and focusing more on communities, populations and health promotion, and the NIH itself became the institution that we know today. Through this, Lee guided the school during his 12 years as dean. Every dean since has benefited from that legacy and built on it.

Thank you, Lee, for your friendship, your commitment to public health and the school, and your wonderful life.

We will keep you all informed about plans for a memorial.

John Finnegan
Dean and Professor, School of Public Health

Make a gift in memory of Stauffer by contributing to the Lee D. and Donna Stauffer Scholarship. This fund provides annual scholarships to students pursuing a Master of Public Health, with preference given to students in the public health administration program.