Helen Abbey, Professor of Biostatistics at the Johns Hopkins
of Public Health for over 50 years and one of the School’s most
faculty members, died March 4, 2001.
With appointments in the School of Public Health’s
Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Population and Family Health
and in the Departments of Medicine and Ophthalmology at the Hopkins
of Medicine, Dr. Abbey’s influence on generations of scientists is
research focused on the design and statistical analysis of
and genetic studies of human disease.
She investigated the effects of low-level radiation on
and mortality, and the natural history of enteric infections in the
American Indian population.
As late as 1998, she was co-authoring scientific papers that
appeared in peer-reviewed journals.
September 1, 1915, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Helen Abbey received an
degree in mathematics at the University of Michigan in 1942.
After working several years as a statistician for the
Department of Health, she joined the faculty at the Johns Hopkins
of Public Health in 1946 as a research assistant in Biostatistics.
that time, the School consisted of a single building on Wolfe
Reminiscing later, Dr. Abbey wrote, “The [Wolfe Street
building’s] doors were locked at 10:00 p.m. but most people seemed
have keys. These
were needed because students came in nights and Sundays to feed
animals or check up on their experiments. It was rumored that I came
feed my calculator.”
Abbey earned her Doctorate of Science degree in Biostatistics in
the School, where she had unparalleled role models in teaching --
who became the seventh president of
Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Margaret
a distinguished professor of Biostatistics.
Dr. Abbey matured into the quintessential teacher and mentor.
During her tenure at the School, Dr. Abbey instructed over 4,000
in Biostatistics and was an advisor and thesis reader to over 700
her students were ministers of health, directors of hospitals,
professors and health experts throughout industry and
She taught two Lasker Award winners, Dr. Victor McKusick,
of Medical Genetics at Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Alfred
Dean of the School of Hygiene and Public Health at Johns Hopkins.
Abbey had taught the School of Public Health’s current dean, Dr.
Sommer, when he was earning his Masters of Health Sciences degree in
1970s, and she was never afraid thereafter to treat him as a former
Of Dr. Abbey, Dean Sommer said, “She was the quintessential
teacher and mentor -- I knew this first hand, as her student in the
I felt this keenly when she accompanied me to Beijing in 1983 to
a course on epidemiology and statistics to their leading academic
ophthalmologists: She gravitated to the students, they flocked to
she insisted on informing every visiting dignitary that ‘the Dean
student.’ I was, and am, better for it.”
of this enduring concern for students, an endowed fund was created
Abbey’s honor at the Hopkins School of Public Health.
Helen Abbey Fund provides support for doctoral candidates in
Biostatistics who have made a commitment to teaching and who serve
teaching assistants in introductory classes, thereby continuing Dr.
Abbey was a member of the American Statistical Association, the
Association of America, the American Society of Human Genetics, and
American Public Health Association.
In 1971 she was the recipient of the School’s first ever “Golden
Apple Award” for excellence in teaching, an award she went on
to win twice more.
In 1982 the School’s Alumni Association presented her with
Heritage Award and in 1985 she won both the Ernest Lyman
and the American Public Health Association Award. The School named
Abbey one of its Heroes of Public Health in 1991.
10, 2001, the
School of Public Health held a memorial service. Donations
in Dr. Abbey's memory may be made to the Helen Abbey Fund, c/o the
External Affairs, Room W1600, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg
School of Public Health, 615
N. Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21205 USA.