2012 Turman Award Winner
By Michelle Valigursky
When Virginia Bales Harris 71C 77PH sets her mind to a task, life changes for many people.
A leader in the field of public health awareness, the 2012 J. Pollard Turman Award winner has championed national programs dedicated to chronic illness education and prevention, including those for breast cancer, cervical cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, tuberculosis control, and smoking cessation for teenagers.
Named one of 175 Emory Makers of History, Harris also has chaired the Emory Leadership Giving Committee, the Rollins School of Public Health (RSPH) Annual Fund, and the RSPH alumni portion of Campaign Emory.
Sponsored by the Emory Alumni Association (EAA), the Turman Alumni Service Award honors Harris’s leadership in the Emory community.
“It feels really special to be recognized by people you honor and respect,” says Harris, who has had experience in public service since childhood.
After graduating from Emory College and the inaugural class of RSPH, she built a thirty-five-year career with Emory’s neighbor, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“It was serendipity for me that I ended up in a place where my Emory education and my passion for science, public health, public policy, and service all came together in the same institution,” she says. “CDC was good to me, and I continued my relationship with Emory through all those decades.
“Working with Emory has been in some ways a release valve for me, a way of continuing to meet new and different kinds of people who are involved in my field but in much broader areas.”
As an alumna, Harris says she is energized by remaining active. “I come back, I touch that stone if you will. I get reinvigorated.” Staying involved as a volunteer leader, Harris says, “reminds you about the values and priorities that are so important.”
Established in 1998, the Turman Award is one of the highest honors given by the EAA. J. Pollard Turman 34C 36L was a humanitarian whose support of higher education and cultural organizations benefited institutions throughout Georgia. Emory created the award with support from the Tull Charitable Foundation, which Turman helped form.
In 2005, the Tull Charitable Foundation pledged to donate $25,000 annually in honor of the Turman Award recipient. Harris has personally committed a matching gift of $25,000, and has said she will direct the funds to support endowments for scholarships for students attending RSPH.
Reflecting on the positive change she has seen in Emory through the years, Harris says, “Emory now has people from all cultures and from all around the world. That feels really good to me. I’m immensely proud of what Emory has become.”