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In Memoriam – Fall 2023

Bill Baldyga Heading link

When Bill Baldyga, DrPH ’82, received a liver transplant in 2005, doctors advised he take six months off from his role as associate director of the School of Public Health’s Institute for Health Research and Policy (IHRP). Instead, he took six weeks off and installed a cot in his office for the ever-rare nap.

This is not an ode to hustle culture but rather the reflection of a researcher, mentor, husband and friend to many who never quit and who never gave up hope. Bill Baldyga passed away in 2023 at the age of 72. He is survived by his wife, Gina Piane, MPH ’84, DrPH ’89, son Andrew, daughter Allison, stepdaughters Danielle and Natalie, daughter-in-law Regina, granddaughter Helen and numerous family and friends. Piane and Baldyga first met at SPH.

Baldyga was a community-focused researcher with interests in community health in Pilsen and Greater Lawn. His community-engaged evidence-based and participatory research often focused on chronic disease prevention, tobacco cessation and related policy changes. His greatest professional joy was found in mentoring students, a task he even continued in retirement. He excelled at improving students’ writing and helping them hone their career aims.

“Our time at SPH was when we both found our calling, we found a home and figured out where we belonged,” Piane said. “For Bill, community-based research was his passion, his mission.”

Celia Toles Heading link

Celia Toles, MPH ’10 with a concentration in public health informatics, first joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014 as a health communications specialist in the Division of State and Local Readiness (DSLR), Office of Readiness and Response. She rose to become associate director of policy and communications for the division and helped to establish the DSLR Justice and Equity Team, which she continued to co-lead. She contributed her talents to many CDC responses and deployments and was a member of CDC’s global response team. On January 28, 2020, one week after CDC activated its COVID-19 response, Celia was one of the first CDC staff to deploy to the Los Angeles International Airport quarantine station. At that time, there were only 15 cases reported in the U.S.

“Her courage in being the first out the door is exemplary and demonstrates Celia’s passion to help others,” said CSLR co-worker Noelle Anderson.

More recently, Celia served as the task force communications lead supporting the Sudan Virus Disease response. This past summer, she served a detail as acting deputy director of the Office of Communications in the CDC Office of Readiness and Response.

“Personally, I will miss many things about Celia, but the thing I will miss most is her sweet, uplifting voice,” said Christine Kosmos, director of DSLR. “She was one of a kind.”

Sharon Feldman Heading link

Sharon Feldman, MPH ’94, was a long-time researcher and administrator with SPH’s Institute for Health Research and Policy (IHRP). She brought passion, an extraordinary sense of caring for others and dedication to helping promote public health science and social justice. Sharon was a key member of the staff of the early years of the CDC-funded Prevention Research Center and was a coordinator for the first CDC PRC-funded network, the Tobacco Control network, which served as a model for subsequent CDC-funded networks. Sharon then served as the coordinator for the Health Policy Center and helped facilitate the research of many of IHRP’s prominent researchers over the past three decades.