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Trustee Chair Robert Knox Endows Professorship

SPH’s Jonathon Simon is inaugural Knox Professor

| From BU Today | By Rich Barlow

Jonathon Simon, an SPH professor of international health and Center for Global Health & Development director, is the inaugural Robert A. Knox Professor. Photo courtesy of the School of Public Health

Each year, 10 million children five or younger die in the developing world from preventable causes. That figure comes from investment banker Robert Knox, whose career might lead you to think he wouldn’t carry such a grim statistic in his head. But Cornerstone Equity Investors, the firm BU Trustee Chairman Knox (CAS’74, GSM’75) helped found, invests one-quarter of its portfolio in businesses involved in health care, a lifelong interest of its senior managing director.

“My mother was a nurse, and she hoped I’d be a doctor. I disappointed her,” says Knox, whose travels in Africa, India, and China exposed him to the devastating health problems of impoverished people.

Now the Robert and Jeanne Knox Foundation has given BU $2.5 million to create a professorship named for Robert Knox, with Jonathon Simon, a School of Public Health professor and chair of international health, the inaugural Robert A. Knox Professor. Simon, who leads BU’s Center for Global Health & Development (CGHD), has spent a quarter century battling childhood illnesses and death in the developing world. His appointment takes effect July 1.

Simon says the gift will support the center’s Global Urban Health initiative, which aims to improve the health of the world’s burgeoning and beleaguered city-dwelling poor. The CGHD is an interdisciplinary research center for global health issues.

“If you spend 10 minutes with Simon and you’re not inspired, you’re like a soulless person,” says Knox. When he first learned about the CGHD, he says, he “was just blown away by how powerful it is” in mustering the intellectual artillery of BU’s various schools. “He taps into the best talent and the best thinking from across the University.” Knox was also struck by how Simon has been able to leverage big health improvements in poor communities from the most mundane of strategies: “Jon is interested in ways to train community health workers or birth attendants to address the very common things that result in these huge infant mortality rates…simple things like having blankets when babies are born so they’re warm.”

Simon estimates that up to 80 percent of the 10 million annual childhood deaths in the developing world might be averted by such elementary health care. “Bob and Jeanne Knox’s generosity will assist the center in its mandate to answer important health and development questions that directly reduce the unnecessary and avoidable deaths” of babies and mothers, he says. “If we do our job well, the Knox gift will be a gift that keeps on giving in terms of improved health of vulnerable populations worldwide.”

The focus on urban health, Knox says, is appropriate for big-city BU, “which in some ways has in its own DNA the problems of living in an urban environment.”

“Professor Simon’s appointment is a significant milestone both for the University’s continued advancement as a research leader and for the BU School of Public Health, which is each day innovating and discovering life-changing solutions to some of the greatest health challenges facing communities around the world,” Provost Jean Morrison said in announcing the professorship.

Simon earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of California, Berkeley, and a doctorate at Harvard. He has worked in Africa and Southeast Asia, and in the last decade has researched the economic and social effects of HIV/AIDS and the survival of orphans and vulnerable children, both through the CGHD.

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