In Memory of Susan West Marmagas

On December 23rd, we all lost a passionate public health advocate and friend. Susan West Marmagas passed away, surrounded by family, after a three-year battle with ovarian cancer. Susan was the director of the MPH Program at Virginia Tech and a CEPH site visitor who had completed 11 CEPH site visits, first as a practitioner and then as a chair, since 2003. She chaired her last CEPH site visit to Long Island University late last year, in the midst of her treatment. Susan was also active in APHA, serving as chair of the Environmental Health section, and later as chair of the APHA Executive Board.

This particular loss hit me particularly hard not because of Susan’s work with CEPH and with the Virginia Tech MPH program but because she has been an important part of my own public health journey. I first met Susan when she hired me for an internship at the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation (NEETF) when I was in graduate school. She seemed to know everybody in public health and had such a magnetic personality. We became fast friends and she became a valued mentor. I left NEETF and got my first few public health jobs (one of which was as an Accreditation Specialist at CEPH!). In the meantime, she had moved from NEETF to direct the Environment and Health Program at Physicians for Social Responsibility. She immediately hired me away from my current job to work with her on education and outreach for the organization’s environmental health programs. Together, we worked on educating health care providers about the effect of environmental toxins on chronic disease and on advocacy related to establishing the national Environmental Public Health Tracking Network, now housed at the CDC. She taught me many of the skills that I still use every day. When I came to her and told her that I wanted to come back to CEPH, she supported my decision because she wanted me to follow my own public health passion. I quickly recruited her as a practitioner site visitor. When she moved to Blacksburg and joined Virginia Tech’s public health activities and became involved in developing a new public health program there, I had the opportunity to work with Susan again, only this time in an advisory capacity. While there, she successfully began the university’s MPH program which received initial accreditation in 2013.

My 20+ relationship with Susan was one of the most influential in my public health career and demonstrates what a small, close knit community public health really is. She was always a role model. She was positive, caring and passionate and taught me so much about public health, about leadership, and about how to attack a problem. She will be greatly missed by so many. 

Her obituary is available here:

 --By Laura Rasar King, EdD, MPH

LIU site visit

Susan West Marmagas (top left) with the team at the Long Island University site visit on November 30, 2017.