Remembering Timothy Edgar, PhD: Health Communication Scholar

By Aviva Must, PhD

Timothy Edgar, PhD, Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine, died in January after surgery related to a car accident. He was traveling in India for work with Unite for Sight – an organization supporting eye clinics in remote settings world-wide. In the wake of his untimely death, Dr. Edgar will be remembered at Tufts for his breadth of scholarship, talents as a mentor/educator, and his enduring dedication to the developing discipline of Health Communication. Lisa Paradis, MPH ’09 and President-Elect for the Public Health and Professional Degree Programs (PHPD) Alumni Association, says, "Tim’s magic was in how he could make you—during even the briefest of conversations—the most interesting person in the world….You could see his brain working as you talked to him, always connecting ideas and people.”

Tim joined the School of Medicine faculty in 2016 after having a secondary faculty appointment with us for 14 years. Before coming to Tufts full-time, he was on the Emerson College faculty and served as Director of their Masters of Arts in Health Communication, a program that was offered in collaboration with the Tufts MS in Health Communication.  James Hyde, Associate Professor Emeritus, recalls how much he enjoyed the partnership…and the partner, “Tim was meticulous and rigorous in his approach to everything he did. No detail was too small. No fact too unimportant to be checked and double-checked. Yet, he was not a pedant, often willing to think ‘outside the box’ in ways that had never occurred to others.” Susan Gallagher, Director of the Tufts MS in Health Communication Program and long-time friend will miss his wry sense of humor, love of the arts (fine and culinary), and all things baseball.

Professor Edgar’s devotion to his students and alumni was unparalleled. Sara Suter, MPH ’16, says, “Tim had a warm presence that made you feel supported, important, and heard…. his passion for health communication radiated from him.” Ryan Kelly, a current student in our MS in Health Communication program, experienced Professor Edgar in the classroom and as a mentor. “As I worked with Professor Edgar on the development of the MS in Global Health Communication program, I was able to witness his tenacious work ethic and commitment to quality. He treated his research with the same dedication he showed for his students… He has inspired me to work just as hard in my future career, to have a finer attention to detail, and to take pride in anything I set out to accomplish, no matter how big or small.”

Tim’s work in the practice world and in academia advanced health communication, particularly within public health. His contributions to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the early 2000’s are used to this day to evaluate the impact and reach of health communication campaigns. Tim’s efforts to establish the profession elevated communication in public health agencies and community-based organizations, earning him the prestigious Everett Rogers award from the American Public Health Association last November for his lifetime of contributions to health education and health promotion.

Dean of Public Health and Professional Degree Programs, Dr. Aviva Must offers, “The world of health communication lost a giant as the new year opened; many of us also lost a cherished colleague and consummate friend.”

A celebration of his life was held in Boston on March 4th. “It was a testament to his commitment to his friendships and his professional work,” says Katherine Chyka, a current MPH student. “It was incredible to see how many lives he touched in such a profound way….The common threads throughout all of the stories were passion, loyalty, and kindness.” A professional tribute will be included in the upcoming International Communication Association conference in San Diego in May.

Jennifer Towers, MS HCOM ’13 and President of the PHPD Alumni Association, says, “When I look back, I can say without a doubt, I’ve never before had such an urge to gain someone’s respect.  Though he had high expectations, Tim had a way of holding you up to the light so that your best parts were illuminated.  I’m going to remember him by doing that for others.”

The Public Health and Professional Degree Programs Alumni Association has established the Timothy Edgar Scholarship Fund to support the tuition of promising health communication or public health students. Professor Edgar's students benefitted from his inspiring approach to teaching and, as alumni, his profound ongoing commitment to their developing careers.       

If you’d like visit giving.tufts.edu/med, select “Other” from the “Select an Area” dropdown menu and type “Tim Edgar Scholarship” in the “Other” box; or

Send a check made out to “Tufts University” with “Tim Edgar Scholarship” in the memo line to Tufts University School of Medicine / Office of Development / 136 Harrison Ave. / Boston, MA 02111