Leon S. Robertson, Ph.D., has spent his career saving lives — not on the front lines, but behind the scenes as a transportation injury epidemiologist, where he researched how policy changes such as seat belt laws and lower legal driving limits for bloodalcohol content can improve safety on the roads. His work also has addressed how vehicle and road modifications can significantly reduce fatalities.
But Robertson argues that there’s still much improvement to be made. “We still have a big problem, but it’s not nearly as big as it was 30 years ago,” he says.
That’s why he and his wife, Nancy Robertson, have supported injury prevention education and research at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health (SPH). In 1997 the Robertsons set aside $500,000 in their estate plan to eventually create the Leon S. Robertson Professorship in Injury Prevention, which would support the work of SPH professor Susan Goodwin Gerberich, Ph.D., a former colleague of Leon whom the couple deeply respects.
Gerberich has led a major research effort over the last two decades in five Midwestern states, examining the magnitude of and risk factors for injuries among agricultural families, with a focus on children. (She and Robertson once collaborated on a study of fatal farm vehicle crashes on public roads.) She also has conducted several studies on workrelated violence, most recently population-based studies of violence against nurses and teachers in Minnesota.
This year the Robertsons decided they wanted to start funding Gerberich’s work sooner. So in March, they contributed $100,000 to the fund. They plan to make similar contributions in the next few years.
“I decided that we could afford to get it started now because I wanted the program to continue … and if Sue Gerberich ever retires, which I don’t know if she will,” Leon Robertson says with a laugh, “that [the University] would replace her with someone equally qualified.”
To further support injury epidemiology at the University, the Robertsons also are funding the Nancy A. Robertson Endowed Fellowship in Injury Prevention to support graduate student training.
The SPH’s injury prevention graduate training program, which Gerberich established in the 1980s, is one of the nation’s first.
Gerberich also received the SPH’s Excellence in Advising Award in 2008.
“Sue’s the best,” says Robertson, adding that he refers students to her training program whenever he has the chance. “She’s an excellent teacher and an excellent scholar.”