February 13, 2020

In Memoriam: David A. Sterling

By Roger D. Lewis

David A. Sterling, PhD, CIH, FAIHA, passed away surrounded by family on Jan. 23, 2020. David was an active member and leader in AIHA since 1981. He served as chair of nine committees and subcommittees for AIHA national and was also a director for the Tidewater, St. Louis, and North Texas local sections. David’s most recent work for AIHA was organizing a special session on real-time detection systems for student researchers at AIHce EXP 2018 in Philadelphia. He became an AIHA fellow in 2017.

David was a prodigious scholar and researcher, with numerous publications related to environmental and occupational exposures. His research included childhood lead exposure; air pollution and childhood asthma; asthma prevalence; air quality and health impacts using satellite remote sensing methods; asbestos exposure and disease progression outcomes of workers; perceptions of physicians’ knowledge of handling terrorism incidents; exposures and controls for agricultural workers; user barriers of powered air-purifying respirators in healthcare work settings; exposure of infants in hospital NICUs to isocyanates; and the epidemiology of parkinsonism in welders.

For 18 years, David led the Asthma 411 initiative, a comprehensive, school-based program to improve outcomes for children with asthma. He first initiated Asthma 411 while at Saint Louis University between 2002 and 2008 with support from CDC. Further study in Ft. Worth, Texas, led to the successful implementation of Asthma 411 in 10 districts with over 230,000 students supported by a consortium of area healthcare partners. In 2018, his Asthma 411 team received a Fort Worth Business Press Healthcare Heroes award for educating school-based healthcare providers, parents, and caregivers on asthma management strategies for both home and school.

David’s colleagues from institutions across the country remember him as a great man and a caring and committed friend who will be deeply missed. Richard Kurz, PhD, former dean of the SLU School of Public Health and now dean emeritus at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, remembered David for his diplomatic skills while navigating thorny administrative problems at both schools. Donna Peterson, PhD, senior vice president and dean of Public Health at the University of South Florida, who worked with David to create content for the Certified Health Professional examination, said David was “just simply a joy to have in the room, with a genuine warmth that belied his incredible intellect.”

Through the course of his career, David developed and directed environmental and occupational health graduate programs at Old Dominion University, Saint Louis University, and University of North Texas Health Science. David took great pride in mentoring students. Over the years he provided guidance and support to lead students toward meaningful careers in public health and research, as well as academic honors, national awards, and publications in many peer-reviewed journals.

Students from Saint Louis University remember David as a favorite teacher who left an indelible mark on their lives. Michael McDaniel of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said he will always remember David’s sly wit and kindness. Onyemachi Nweke, PhD, a scientist at the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, remembers David as a supportive and encouraging force who “brought the world of practice into the classroom, preparing students in ways we could only understand in retrospect for our careers.” Many of David’s faculty colleagues and students shared Dr. Nweke’s opinion: “Every day, he woke up with the heart of a giver.”

The Sterling family asks that those wishing to honor Dr. Sterling’s memory consider a contribution to the Asthma 411 program. Please visit the University of North Texas Health Science Center, choose “Give Now,” then use the "Designation" drop-down box for “Other” and specify “Asthma 411 in memory of Dr. David Sterling."

Roger D. Lewis, PhD, CIH, FAIHA, is a professor at Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice and is a past chair of the AIHA Academic SIG.