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Remembering Dr. Steven P. Wallace

A message from UCLA Fielding School of Public Health Dean Ron Brookmyer

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Date: 
Thursday, April 1, 2021

Dear colleagues,

The passing of Professor Steven P. Wallace is a profound loss felt deeply by all of us in the Fielding School community.

During this time of grieving it is challenging to see beyond the indelible mark of Steve’s absence, yet the outpouring of tributes serve as a reminder that our colleague, friend, and mentor who moved through life with the utmost integrity and humanity, had impact in our field of public health that is both profound and perpetual.

Steve was a leading scholar on aging in communities of color and a renowned expert on immigrant health and health policy for immigrants. He focused on identifying social determinants of health inequities in different populations, primarily older adults and immigrants, with the goal of devising ways of improving the health of those populations through public policies, community interventions, and community capacity building. He is widely recognized for introducing concepts such as the social determinants of health into discussions of health and social care for Latino and immigrant populations, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations long before such ideas became mainstream.

In both his research and fieldwork, Steve worked to better understand the dynamics of social inequality and how it impacts health equity, as well as how policy and community approaches can improve health equity. He often wrote letters to editors and op-ed articles for local and national newspapers. These pithy and relevant opinion writings targeting lawmakers demonstrated Steve’s deep engagement in effecting change in health and healthcare policy for immigrant and elderly populations. Steve also testified at state legislative hearings and in other forums, and his research has informed state laws.

Steve served as an associate director at FSPH’s UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (UCLA CHPR) for 25 years. Among his numerous highly impactful research and community-based projects with the center, in 2008 Steve and his colleagues were asked to calculate the true cost of living for older adults in California to replace outdated poverty guidelines. The resulting California Elder Economic Security Standard Index (Elder Index)—maintained by UCLA CHPR—contributed to the passage of the Elder Economic Planning Act of 2011, which requires the state’s agencies to use the Elder Index in their strategic planning calculations.

Over the years, Steve led teams that enhanced community organization capacity to advocate for better air quality in their neighborhoods and established resources for Los Angeles neighborhoods to increase smoke-free rental housing. At the time of his passing, Steve served as principal investigator on two National Institutes of Health grants examining the impact of immigrant policies and access to healthcare for adults and children in California.

Steve was unwaveringly committed to increasing the diversity of the NIH-funded workforce and in the discipline of public health and science more broadly, starting at the undergraduate level. He served as director of a National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging-funded national coordinating center for the Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research, which mentors promising scholars from under-represented groups who pursue careers in areas of research related to aging.

For many of us, Steve was a model for all that is possible in training, service, teaching, and mentorship. In my role as dean, I frequently turned to him for wisdom and advice.

Steve’s career began at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, where he worked briefly before joining UCLA in 1990 as an assistant professor. From the very beginning of Steve’s 31-year tenure at the Fielding School, he had an impact on students. In 1992 he was named Faculty Member of the Year by the Public Health Student Association, and a few years later he received an Outstanding Mentor Award from the UCLA Public Health Diversity Enrichment Program.

Many of the doctoral students for whom Steve served as primary advisor have gone on to tenure-track faculty positions and director roles at major centers. He would always find time for students, even those from other universities who were simply interested in the field. Whether advised formally or informally by Steve, his positive influence on students over the years is significant.  

Memories of Steve shared by current and former students highlight his dedication to providing mentorship and guidance, collaborating on research and community partnerships, as well as his willingness to use his access to create pathways for others. Mike Prelip, professor and chair of the Department Community Health Sciences shared, “Steve’s door was always open to everyone—students, early career faculty members, and the rest of us. He was there to listen, ask the right questions, give the best advice, make you laugh, and be the absolute best friend and colleague. He was the complete package. He supported so many of us in so many ways and often when we didn’t even know it. The Department of Community Health Sciences will never be the same.”

In 2005 Steve stepped into the role of vice-chair for the Department of Community Health Sciences, a role he held for five years before serving as chair of the department for six years beginning in 2011. Steve also served two separate terms as chair of the school-wide faculty executive committee, in addition to extensive service on doctoral, admissions, faculty, and teaching committees.

Steve received numerous honors over the years, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Public Health Association Aging and Public Health Section in 2018 and the Chair’s Citation for Service from the Section in 2017. He earned a Fulbright Fellowship to research and lecture in Chile, where he studied the impact of public policies on health equity for the elderly. And for his work addressing immigrant and migrant health, in 2018 Steve received the Mario Gutierrez Champion of Migrant Health award from the Health Initiative of the Americas.

We extend our deepest sympathies to Steve’s family who have supported our school and the discipline of public health for more than 30 years. In lieu of flowers, Steve’s family invites contributions to The Steve Wallace Fellowship Fund at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, which we hope will continue Steve’s deep commitment to mentoring first-generation students to become leaders in advancing public health policy. Contributions may be made securely online. Gifts may also be sent by check, made payable to “The UCLA Foundation” with the “Steve Wallace Fellowship Fund #16030” noted in the memo line and mailed to The UCLA Foundation, P.O. Box 7145, Pasadena, CA 91109-7145. Separately, we invite you to post a note of remembrance on this tribute page.

Steve led with light and resolve, and was an indispensable force for good in our community. We will all miss seeing him enter our building, bike helmet in hand, and the sound of his joyful laughter. Yet Steve’s legacy will only continue to grow. The many talented students and scholars Steve mentored will carry their shared values and determination forward, and contribute to a markedly more equitable tomorrow.

Sincerely,
Ron

 

Ron Brookmeyer
Dean
UCLA Fielding School of Public Health