Remembering “Scutch”: A Public Health Luminary
On May 23, 2022, F. Douglas Scutchfield — Scutch — died after complications from pneumonia. Scutch was in the first generation of Public Health Systems and Services Researchers, and a few of us wanted to leave a remembrance. Please reach out to me if you would like to add your thoughts here. ~ JP Leider
For those of you who never made it to the Keeneland conferences, you missed out. In its heyday, the PHSSR-themed conference, held annually at UK in Lexington was a multiday event celebrating the interests, challenges, and tribulations of public health systems and services research. At the center of it was Scutch – not the man himself, but perhaps the movement he had helped build or the moment he had aided in ushering in. With the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and others over the years, Scutch, Glen, Cynthia and others centered Keeneland as the place to be for PHSSR. For someone like me, who was still finding their way into the space in the late 2000s, it was an ideal environment, learning from those, like Scutch, who had worked on the ground for many years. Listening to the cutting edge science. Hearing what was working, and what wasn’t. Figuring out what new methods might be brought to bear in the fledgling space of PHSSR. And, in my case, presenting for too long, awkwardly, in a room full of your future peers, about work you found very exciting.
I only had the privilege of working with Scutch a couple of times, most notably for me on our Annual Review paper of public health finance. We began that yearlong project with a short series of conversations, where Scutch relayed an oral history of public health administration over the course of the twentieth century. I am deeply grateful for that time, and doubt I will see its like again. Our work was better for the mix of personal history and scholarship Scutch brought to it, and I learned a great deal more than went into that paper.
On reflection, I probably only spoke to Scutch a little over dozen times, in total, ever, since I met him as many years ago. But every time, whether the conversation was a few minutes or many more, I appreciated his deep well of wisdom, curiosity, and kindness. I know he is missed, and our field is worse off for his passing, though we benefited immensely from his presence.
I often think of my peers and myself as the second wave of PHSSR scientists, the wave that grew as a result of the vision and leadership of the founders of this field. Scutch was a central figure in the founding movement; he imagined the wave, helped to build the PHSSR momentum, and was always a spokesperson and advocate for the field. As a doctoral student, it was his work that I was citing, and being in his presence back then was like being around a famous superstar – although a welcoming and friendly one. Now, as a faculty member myself, I assign many of his thought pieces and studies to students in my PHSSR doctoral course. I want students to see how this all started and to read the work of the mentors who inspired it. His dedication and leadership was legendary and I am so very thankful to have witnessed it.
I had the privilege of visiting Scutch once in his office sometime in 2017 – to discuss the Annual Review paper of public health finance we were co-authoring with JP and David Bishai. I was nervous, meeting such a public health legend face-to-face. What questions should I ask? But alas, as those of you that know Scutch! He immediately put me at ease with his big, booming, welcoming personality and spent about 45 minutes giving me a wonderful tutorial on the nuanced details of budget administration. He offered practical advice with a touch of humor and stories that brought life to what most would consider mundane. That day and in all my interactions with Scutch, I took away not only valuable scholarly and practical public health administration lessons, but also an understanding of the power of personal history and relationships. As we build on Scutch’s PHSSR legacy, he serves as a wonderful role model to remind us each of the importance of our own relationships and personal histories in the continued advancement of PHSSR.
In so many ways, it is hard to imagine the field of PHSSR without Scutch. He has left a lasting legacy and impact on the field and so many PHSSR researchers and practitioners. He helped to coalesce a spirited body of work into a recognized science. He worked alongside others to ignite interest in this field through his ideas, his writing, his advocacy, his larger than life persona, and in so many other ways. On a personal level, I interacted with Scutch only a handful of times. I fondly remember Scutch’s warm welcome to me during my first visit to the Keeneland conference, among other memories. But in the true spirit of his systems-oriented, population-focused legacy, his impact spans far beyond these direct interactions. He and others helped make it possible for the PHSSR field to grow and for subsequent generations of PHSSR researchers to study, enter the field, and continue to grow for future generations. Scutch will be very dearly missed by me and others, but we are all fortunate to have had him at the forefront of PHSSR for all these years.
Public health has lost a powerful voice with Dr. Scutchfield’s passing. I believe my first impression of Scutch came at a Keeneland Conference. He had a giant personality, kind and wise. As I learned more about his background and many talents, I recall thinking that if I could learn to be good at just one of the things in which Scutch excelled, that would make for a fulfilling career. I am so grateful for his support throughout my doctoral studies and for having the privilege of working alongside him and his team on public health workforce projects. Although he was often at the center of the action at Keeneland and other conferences, he always made time to check in on how I was doing, ask if there was anything he could do to help, and relay words of encouragement. That was common for Scutch. He nurtured many of us as we grew into a PHSSR path, leveraging his reputation and credibility to give others opportunities to establish their own. I am among the many who benefited from that. Thank you for everything, Scutch.
Trying to capture Scutch in a few words seems nearly impossible. He had the biggest personality and was a fierce advocate for public health. I met Scutch in 2011 when I had decided to abandon history as a discipline and jump ship to public health. I knew I was interested in public health, and systems, but was unsure of what that might actually look like. I’ll never forget him looking at me and saying “I think I’ve got a spot for you.” Little did I know I was sitting with one of the founders of PHSSR. I will forever be grateful that Scutch took a chance on me and set my career path in motion. Scutch and others made the PHSSR field a welcoming environment where early career folks could learn and grow into scholars. I count the many people I met at the Keeneland conference as both colleagues and friends today.
Scutch was a public health giant and one of a kind. His door was always open and he gave countless hours to his mentees and colleagues. Scutch’s legacy is one I hope to carry forward in scholarship, mentorship, and service. He will be missed greatly.
I cannot begin to imagine what my career path would be without Scutch. As a MPH student I was the research assistant on a PHSSR RWJF grant with Jenine Harris. The grant and project opened me up to the PHSSR field and I have never looked back. I do not remember the moment I met Scutch but I everytime we were together he made me feel important, smart and that my work was impactful. When I was a doctoral student at Saint Louis University we had a speaker series where the students selected the speaker and as part of their time with us they would meet with the students and give career and life advice. The students voted for Scutch. He was so generous with his time and gave advice that I still reflect on. Years later he still talked about how honored he was to do the talk because the students selected him. He really cared about his role in mentoring students and junior researchers. Years later he wrote a letter supporting my tenure and promotion, which I have reread and feel so honored to have. Scutch was larger than life and I will forever be grateful for the time we shared and the lasting impact he had on me and on my students as I try to emulate is service leadership style.
Scutch leaves a heavy obligation…and privilege. He can legitimately be credited with establishing the field of Public Health Systems and Services Research. Then, on top of that, he very personally nurtured and mentored so many of us to grow the field of study he was so very passionate about. I am forever grateful for and was privileged by the enthusiasm he helped grow in me for PHSSR. The only way I can think of to properly honoring him is to assure that PHSSR flourishes and serves our public health practice community in all of the ways he had envisioned.
I worked for Dr. Scutchfield ‘Scutch’ during my time at the University of Kentucky for the National Coordinating Center in PHSSR. To know Scutch was to love him. He was a giant in public health and healthcare. Those that worked for him have so many fond memories of him; from him taking many of us to our first public health conferences (APHA, AcademyHealth, Keeneland), introducing us to experts in the field, BBQs at his horse farm, offering up coveted Kentucky basketball tickets, and most importantly getting to work with the most amazing people.
Scutch was a true gentleman and one of the most generous people. His spirit of generosity and hospitality was on full display at each Keeneland Conference. He was involved in every detail and took prodigious pride at the growth of the PHSSR community. His pride for developing talent extended beyond tenure as a student or conference attendee. Upon graduation he told each of us that wherever we go in the world we are part of the Scutch club for life. I know all in the field of PHSSR were part of this club as well.
Scutch has had a profound impact on so many lives. He will be deeply missed!
I was a brand new scholar when I discovered Scutch’s Keeneland group through a call for proposals for pilot grants. I submitted a project idea and was funded. More important than the funding, though, was the immediate supportive connections his program fostered. Over the next several years, I attended the Keeneland conference every year and it became like a home and resulted in many collaborations and friendships. Scutch was ever present and almost unbelievably accessible at these conferences, even to brand new scholars. With some distinctly Keeneland touches, like Kentucky Colonels and mint juleps, Scutch fostered a unique sense of community and a feeling that we were all rooting for each other since our success was tied to the success of our public health system. I’m sure his reach and impact go far beyond what I witnessed. Well done, Scutch. You will be missed.