David K. Jones
The School of Public Health is mourning the loss of David K. Jones, a beloved colleague, teacher, and mentor whose work examined the complex intersections of policy, race, and the social determinants of health.
He was 40.
Sandro Galea, Robert A. Knox Professor and dean of SPH, announced Jones’ death “with enormous sadness” in an email to the school community. “In truth, I have no words to describe the devastation of this news…He cared deeply about bridging research and policy, and conducted work in places as far as France and the Mississippi Delta. And above all, David was a wonderful human being, living with integrity and a deep commitment to all we do.”
Jones, the father of three children, died on September 11 after falling 20 feet through rusted metal stairs near the MBTA’s JFK/UMass Red Line station in Dorchester. His wife, Sarah Sacuto, said in a social media post that he had gone for a run.
In her post, Sacuto said of her husband, “He was the most loving, kind, considerate person I knew. He was the best father. He loved to dance to Phish, be outdoors, and run. He loved unconditionally and was the proudest father to his kids. I loved him.”
Jones was as committed to teaching as to research, says Christopher Louis, a clinical associate professor of health law, policy, and management. Taking a scooter to and from the train to arrive early at BU, Jones would meet for hours with doctoral and master’s students, Louis says.
“He was the first to welcome new faculty into our department,” Louis says, “and open his home to his students. He often hosted his classes, before COVID, for dinner toward the end of the semester as a way of bringing together class material and opening his life to his students.”
An associate professor of health law, policy & management, Jones joined the faculty in 2014 and was founding editor-in-chief of Public Health Post, SPH’s online newsletter containing information about public health from policymakers, academics, journalists, and health care professionals.
“David was especially passionate about mentoring student writers,” writes Michael Stein, professor and chair of health law, policy & management, and executive editor of Public Health Post; and Jennifer Beard, clinical associate professor of global health, and associate editor of Public Health Post. “He hoped that our student writing fellows would move into their professions after a year of constant writing and publication with a burning need to keep asking important, complicated questions, looking for answers, and communicating with anyone willing to listen.”
Former student Kelly Danckert, a program manager at Health Resources in Action in Vermont, writes that “Taking David’s class was the highlight of my BUSPH career. His thoughtfulness, care, and dedication to his students was above and beyond anything I have experienced. David’s contribution to the field of public health is so valuable, particularly his research and belief that more MPH graduates need to run for office and apply a public health lens to all policymaking.”
He was the author of Exchange Politics: Opposing Obamacare in Battleground States (Oxford University Press, 2017), an examination of states’ decisions regarding health insurance exchanges under Obamacare, and at the time of his death was working on a book about the social determinants of health in the Mississippi Delta, revisiting the stops made there in the 1960s by the late Senator Robert Kennedy.
“I came to better understand that racism is more than bad people intentionally harming someone else they view as inferior,” Jones wrote. “It can take that form, but it is also people — sometimes including me—who believe they are not racist but who are unable to acknowledge or unwilling to change the systems that structurally benefit them while disadvantaging entire groups. The more time I spent in Mississippi the more I was able to see the same inequities and racism in my own community.” His research spurred a passion for bettering his local community as a steering committee member of the Milton Anti-Racist Coalition.
His research and observations were frequently cited in national publications such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, among other media.
Jones was the recipient of numerous honors, including SPH’s Excellence in Teaching Award, the John D. Thompson Prize for Young Investigators from the Association of University Programs in Health Administration, and the Outstanding Dissertation Award from AcademyHealth, a Washington, D.C., health research and policy nonprofit.
Earlier this year, Jones joyfully tweeted about his wife being cancer-free following surgery and treatment for the disease; he also tweeted about the difficulty, familiar to many parents, of navigating his three children’s mental health during the pandemic.
Jones was born in Provo, Utah and raised in Washington Heights, New York. He received his Bachelor of Arts at McGill University, his Master of Science in Public Health from The University of North Carolina, and his Master of Arts in Political Science and doctorate in Health Services, Organization & Policy from the University of Michigan.
A public viewing was held at the Alfred D. Thomas Funeral Home, 326 Granite Ave, Milton from 1-4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 19. A virtual and in-person memorial service was held at BUSPH from 3-5 p.m. on Sept. 23.
A GoFundMe page to support his family has been set up by his SPH colleagues.