The public health community is mourning the loss of Andrea Kidd-Taylor, DrPH, MSPH, 59, who died on September 1 from cancer. Celebrations of her life were held on September 8-9 in Randallstown, MD.
I first met Andrea Kidd-Taylor in 1994 when she was a member of OSHA’s 12-person National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH). With her masters and doctoral degrees in public health, and her training as an industrial hygienist, Andrea held the NACOSH slot designated for an occupational health expert. At the time, she was with the Health and Safety Department of the United Auto Workers (UAW) and living in Detroit. I was working at OSHA but had never previously attended a NACOSH meeting.
I remember my first encounter with Andrea as if it were yesterday. She lit up the drab government conference room with her bright eyes and warm smile. The committee was discussing OSHA’s hazard communication standard. Specifically the adequacy and understandability of the information available to workers about the chemical hazards they encounter in their jobs. Andrea pressed the discussion to focus on the paucity of information for workers—both women and men—-on reproductive system effects. It was a topic that received too little attention by government agencies, manufacturers and users, but, she explained, was a topic of significant concern to workers.
During a break, I mustered up the confidence to introduce myself to her. (It was early in my OHS career, and I felt out of place approaching individuals I considered above my status.) With a “Detroit is my hometown” lead, I put out my hand for a shake from Andrea. Her sincerity was overwhelming. She made me feel like our brief conversation was the most important one she would have all day. That was just one of Andrea’s many beautiful traits. Colleagues are sharing many others.
“My first contact with Dr. Taylor was in 2006 at Howard University, Washington, DC. She was an environmental public health guest lecturer at the University’s College of Medicine-operated public health program. In her presentation, she depicted every ounce of a true bastion of public health and environmental activism. At the end of the class, a throng of students lined up to have a chat with her—and I was once of them.”
“For every student that came, she had the same level as mine: an engagement, and presence that was neither rushed, nor frizzled. This was late in the night. This is significant given the fact that she was in Washington, DC and would be commuting to Baltimore, Maryland the same night—a commute that was very long. She made a personal connection with each of the students that she met that night.”
Her outreach to students and colleagues in academia went well beyond the Washington, DC/Baltimore region.
“We have lost a real leader, inspiration, spokesperson for social justice and the well-being of working people, and an extraordinarily kind heart,” remembered Margaret M. Quinn, ScD, CIH, professor in the Department of Work Environment, University of Massachusetts Lowell.
“Andrea was an advisor to and/or collaborator with just about everyone in our OHS community and beyond. She served in this role in several capacities for our department. We will work with renewed commitment to carry out her vision.” Quinn added, “Tomorrow is the first day of our graduate course in Occupational Health and Safety Policy and we will dedicate the class to her so that new students will know about and continue her work.”
My first encounter with Andrea Kidd-Taylor at that NACOSH meeting is when I learned about the American Public Health Association (APHA) and its important role in advocating for worker health and safety. She was chair of the OHS Section in 1994. She invited and urged me to join the organization, which I did a year or two later.
Andrea’s leadership in APHA continued to grow and she was ultimately elected to the 25,000-member association’s executive board in 2008 for a four-year term. That was another amazing thing about Andrea. She had a full-time job, most recently as a lecturer in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Morgan State University, but she also accepted many invitations to serve (volunteer) on boards, committees and working groups. Besides her service to NACOSH and APHA, others included: the National Coalition against the Misuse of Pesticides, Maryland Pesticide Reporting and Information working group, a presidential advisory committee examining illnesses among Gulf War veterans, and as a working group chair for the National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures.
Andrea was appointed by President Clinton in 1998 to the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) on which she served a five-year term. Current CSB chair Rafael Moure-Eraso said her tenure was:
“marked by compassion for workers and deep concern for their well being on the job. …She was not only passionate about her work, but empathetic to those who suffered from tragedies on the job. For instance, she deployed with an investigation team to Kinston, North Carolina, following a massive explosion at West Pharmaceutical Services Company on January 29, 2003. The dust explosion destroyed the plant and caused six deaths, dozens of injuries, and hundreds of job losses. Dr. Kidd Taylor insisted on meeting as many surviving but shaken workers as possible to assure them her agency would find out what happened.”
Andrea’s genuine concern for the hazards faced by workers was influenced by her grandfather’s experience working in a foundry in Bessemer, Alabama. In a 1997 talk at the conference “Healthy and Sustainable Communities: Building Model Partnerships for the 21st Century,” she described how her “Papa” would come home from work covered in thick dust from the foundry. He had labored breezing, wheezed, and used an inhalant for relief. He died in 1978 at age 69 from a massive asthma and heart attack, she explained.
“His death haunts me because I know that he and many other workers in this plant (the workforce was predominantly black) did not live to enjoy their retirements.”
For Andrea Kidd-Taylor, public health and social justice went hand-in-hand. And with Andrea, it was never just talk. Pamela Vossenas, MPH, Workplace Safety and Health Coordinator for UNITE HERE, recalled one of her fondest memories of Andrea:
“It was the very last day of the [exhausting] APHA conference at an 8:00 am session. A UNITE HERE Washington, DC hotel housekeeper and I were on a panel to discuss recent contract wins and hotel room cleaning workloads. Sure enough, who was there bright and early to greet us, well, let’s be honest — to greet the housekeeper, but Andrea and Linda Rae Murray.I loved the support they showed to having the housekeeper—our union sister—on the panel.”
“Most recently, she helped out some cafeteria workers with an organizing campaign UNITE HERE had going on in Baltimore,” Vossenas added. “Hard to believe that our dear Andrea, a true, mighty and beautiful force of nature is no longer with us on earth. She was an inspiration to us all.”
Andrea’s public health expertise, and her training as an industrial hygienist was in demand and highly valued. So was her singing voice. Andrea had an amazing musical talent—the kind of signing voice that would send chills up your spin or get your hands clapping to the beat. Whether a Motown favorite, a Spiritual, or a labor protest song, if you heard Andrea’s a capella instrument, you’d never forget it. She was a member of the singing group Rafiki Na Dada which means Friends and Sisters in the Swahili language.
Elise Pechter, MPH, CIH with the Massachusetts Department of Health made me smile when she said:
“I am so saddened to learn about Andrea’s passing. I was always delighted that an industrial hygienist could dance and sing—giving lie to the idea that we were all nerds.”
“I had the joy of working with Andrea for many years at UAW,” remembered LaborSafe’s Peter Dooley, CSP, CIH.
“One vivid memory was spending several weeks with our sister union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, singing, dancing and learning.” He added, “Andrea helped celebrate my wedding almost twenty years ago by singing “We shall Overcome” with her mother. Many treasured moments and memories. Andrea will be sadly missed.”
Andrea Kidd-Taylor received her doctorate of public health degree (DrPH) in 1989 from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, her masters of science in public health (MSPH) in 1982 from the University of Alabama in Birmingham, and a bachelors of science degree in 1976 from Howard University. She was a 40-year member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha service sorority and a devoted member of Union Bethel AME Church and its sanctuary choir. She is survived by her husband Dr. Jimmy Taylor, and her children Shomari and Tahira.
He life and contribution to worker health and safety will surely be celebrated at APHA’s annual meeting in November.