Marci Campbell, PhD, professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, died Dec. 14 after living with cancer with grace and caring for almost two years.
A member of UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and program leader for cancer prevention and control at the Center, and member of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP), Campbell devoted her career to researching and developing strategies aimed at reducing risk factors for cancer and other chronic diseases, especially in minority and underserved communities throughout North Carolina and the United States. She focused particularly on nutrition behavior change for improving health and preventing diseases.
“In more than 20 years knowing Marci Campbell, I never ceased to be awed by her capacity for new ideas and creative approaches to an ever-increasing number of public health problems she tackled with unrelenting energy,” said Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, Dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.
“She was one of the most committed, enthusiastic, energetic and innovative interventionists anywhere. Marci had enthusiastic collaborators around the world, in part because of her infinite capacity for reaching out and wanting to solve cancer control and public health problems, wherever they occurred. Perhaps, though, her greatest and most profound contributions were as a result of the research she did with low-income North Carolinians. She was the kind of faculty member who showed communities that what we do here matters to them and makes their lives better,” Rimer said.
“Marci received her doctorate from our department and has been an active collaborator and researcher with a number of our faculty and students for many, many years,” said Jo Anne Earp, ScD, chair of UNC’s Department of Health Behavior and Health Education. “She mentored and supported many students over the years and was an incredibly prolific researcher with a large grant portfolio. Beyond any titles, or degrees, however, Marci was a wonderful, warm, nurturing human being. I will miss her greatly – her laugh, her humor, her wisdom, her support.”
One of Campbell’s renowned intervention efforts is “HOPE Works,” a community-based strategy to support, educate and strengthen women in reducing obesity and leading healthier and more fulfilling lives. These programs developed into the HOPE projects, a series of initiatives focused on lowering obesity and improving overall health and socioeconomic status of women in eastern North Carolina. The efforts have spanned more than 18 years and served as the Core Research Project for HPDP, working in close partnership with the Community Action Council. The projects use HOPE Circles, small groups of women led by a trained community member, to help empower women to eat healthy foods, exercise more and achieve financial goals.
“Marci served as PI for the core research project at HPDP for more than 20 years,” said Alice Amerman, director of HPDP and a colleague in the department of nutrition. ”Always an innovator and a champion for social justice, Marci worked with community partners to launch a non-profit microenterprise to generate revenue and jobs in low income communities. She studied the disproportional impact of a natural disaster on poor rural communities and secured funding to test the model of Individual Development Accounts that reward saving with matching funds to achieve “assets development” such as education, or launching a business. Marci formed strong bonds with community partners and traveled many miles on rural roads to attend meetings, celebrations, research-related trainings, and the annual Community Action Coalition Retreat. Marci’s many contributions to HPDP are deep and resilient and will continue to benefit and influence the extended HPDP community for many years to come.”
“Body and Soul,” another intervention project, began with an earlier study, “Black Churches United for Better Health,” co-directed by Campbell. Project researchers worked with 50 black congregations in rural North Carolina communities using church activities, pastor involvement and peer counseling to encourage church members to eat more fruits and vegetables. The American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) combined Campbell’s program with similar efforts being implemented by Dr. Ken Resnicow, now at the University of Michigan, and created “Body and Soul.” This pilot became the basis for the current “Body & Soul” program disseminated by the National Cancer Institute nationally through Cancer Control – P.L.A.N.E.T.
In 1984, former Governor James B. Hunt awarded Campbell the Order of the Longleaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor, for her work to improve the health of North Carolinians.
In order to support other researchers, Campbell developed the Communication for Health Applications and Interventions (CHAI) Core, which provides services for research projects that are developing interventions aimed at promoting health and disease prevention.
Campbell also was co-director of Lineberger’s LIVESTRONG™ Survivorship Center of Excellence, part of a network of eight Lance Armstrong Foundation centers that direct survivorship services and increase effectiveness of survivorship care through research, development of new interventions and sharing of best practices, such as Peer Connect, a support program for cancer survivors.
In addition to these achievements, Campbell was a devoted mentor to students and faculty members. She created a legacy that will live on.