Remembering the enormous contributions of Dennis Murphy to NCSD, the STI field, his many friends and mentees, and the health of the nation
May 5, 2023
NCSD mourns the passing of Dennis Murphy, one of NCSD’s founders, a mentor to many STD Directors, and a lifelong STI professional. NCSD’s Charlie Rabins wrote the following rememberance of Dennis and his contributions. His obituary can be read here.
“Dennis Murphy began his career in the late 1960s as a Disease Intervention Specialist (DIS) working for the State of New York in Albany – though at time of his hiring the job title was “Venereal Disease Investigator” (VDI). He had recently graduated from SUNY Buffalo and completed a brief term with the National Guard. Through dedication, perseverance, and a clear focus on getting things done, Dennis was able to distinguish himself as a VDI and begin his climb up the managerial career ladder. By the 1990s, Dennis was the Assistant Director of the New York State Bureau of STD Control. During his years as a manager in this position, he constantly worked to ensure that all the systems that support an effective STD programs were high functioning and efficient. These include surveillance, DIS training and oversight, supervision, and ensuring staff had the resources and know-how to get the job done. Program evaluation and continuous improvement were hallmarks of a program under Dennis’ leadership. He valued a diversity of voices and was well known for convening meetings of STD Directors and staff from Northeast states to discuss and develop solutions for common as well as unique issues and challenges.
In 1994, Dennis collaborated with Kim Seechuk of Maryland and Beth Myerson of Missouri to conceive of and establish the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD) with support from Charlie Rabins (IL), Evelyn Foust (NC), Casey Blass (TX), Gary Richwald (LA), Eliane Collison (MN), Gail Bolan (CA), Mark Miller (MI), Christine Newlon (NE), Isaac Weisfuse (NYC), Craig Thompson (MS) and several other STD Directors. In those early days, Dennis, with assistance from his colleagues, did everything to launch NCSD – creating a board of directors, seeking nonprofit status in 1996 (with support from CDC DSTDP and NASTAD), establishing an office in Washington D.C., hiring an Executive Director and organizing the first of many annual NCSD conferences. The accomplishments and success of NCSD today has its roots in those early days because of the leadership and vision of Dennis and his collaborators and has been built upon over the ensuing years by the contributions of many others, including NCSD Board Members, the staff of NCSD, and the commitment and dedication of state and local health department members and partners from non-governmental organizations.
In addition to his work helping to “birth” NCSD, Dennis continued to assume additional work responsibilities including taking on expanded leadership roles at the New York State Health Department. He ended his career in New York State in 2006 as the Associate Director of the Division of Family Health. In that role, he remembered his STD roots and built programmatic bridges to extend STD prevention – including HBV vaccination – into New York’s Family Health Services.
While he retired from New York State, Dennis wasn’t done with STDs yet. He still had more to contribute and became an CDC Public Health Advisor assigned to the New York State’s STD Control program. He was surprised at what he saw when he returned to STD work. Performance and outcomes of DIS and other STD prevention efforts had declined because as infrastructure crumbled in the regional and local offices, DIS took on additional administrative and clerical duties, leaving little time for contact tracing and partner services. With expanded responsibilities, DIS needed guidance to find footing in their roles and identify priorities. Dennis made it his mission that DIS know their role and that they focus on core STD work. Dennis strengthened implementation of New York State’s ‘core’ area targeted GC intervention program. At manager, IPP, and regional meetings, Dennis displayed GIS maps of gonorrhea screening and partner services program outcomes to highlight their successes and gaps.
In 2010, Dennis’s career started in a new direction (south) when he was reassigned as the CDC Senior Public Health Advisor in South Carolina’s STD program. While in South Carolina, Dennis began efforts to re-build a program burdened by limited resources and reinvigorated a focus on improving STD Program science based processes and outcomes. In his short tenure there, Dennis significantly contributed to enhancing program leadership, DIS training and supervision, implementation of Expedited Partner Therapy (EPT), and to program planning, evaluation and grant writing. Dennis retired in 2012 from CDC and continued working as a consultant in several public health roles including assisting in planning and evaluating COVID-19 contact tracing and referral.
Dennis was a skilled and effective leader who was both a diplomat and a warrior. He had that unique ability to effectively and strongly disagree and advocate for a policy or position when needed without being disagreeable.”
Dennis is remembered so fondly by so many in public health and beyond. All of us at NCSD extend our gratitude for his life’s work and our condolences to all those who knew and loved him.
From Charlie to Dennis:
“I hope you take pride that all your hard work and effort in getting NCSD created and the leadership you provided during the early years resulted in so many accomplishments and advancements in STD prevention and control across the US from then until now and will continue into the future.
It’s hard to believe that the ripple in the pond you help start in 1994 resulted in $1.13 billion in new funding in 2021 for DIS expansion and enhancements at the state and local level over a five year period to STD grant awards (this is in addition to normal annual CDC STD grant funding)”
Excerpt from Charlie Rabins to Dennis Murphy, August 2021