Remembering Laurie Zabin

Date: June 9th, 2020

Valerie Sedivy

Laurie Schwab Zabin, PhD, an internationally recognized expert on adolescent pregnancy, family planning, abortion, and sexual behavior, died May 11, 2020 at age 94. Dr. Zabin was a professor of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She dedicated over three decades of service with Planned Parenthood of Maryland, helped shape the national strategy of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and was among the founders of the Guttmacher Institute. Internationally, she traveled to more than a dozen countries, helping to establish women’s health clinics and bring contraceptive options to women across the globe. Read the full obituary published in The Washington Post.

Dr. Zabin served on the Healthy Teen Network Board of Directors, was recognized as Researcher of the Year in 2007, and was a long-time donor and supporter, dating back to our early days as the National Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting (NOAP). In this long list of awe-inspiring accomplishments, Healthy Teen Network Director of Capacity Building and Evaluation, Valerie Sedivy, shares some of her personal memories of Dr. Zabin and her tremendous support for her students:

Laurie Zabin is best known for her pioneering work to call attention to teen pregnancy and to help young people in Baltimore and around the world access reproductive health. What’s less known is how the way she worked, rather than what she did, was uniquely inspirational to many, including me.

I first met Laurie when I was a Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Master’s student. I didn’t fit the mold of the typical student, being the product of a working-class family in the Midwest with a mediocre state-school education in an unrelated field. While I didn’t have much confidence, I did have a few years of health education experience under my belt, and a lot of ambition to make a difference in the lives of young people. Before I made the commitment to enroll, I decided to try to meet with a faculty member or two to get a feeling for whether or not I could hack it.

Laurie enthusiastically agreed to meet with me, and she not only convinced me that I had the right to be there, but she took me under her wing and helped me navigate this new academic and social world. She invited me to gatherings at her house and took me to dinner. She hired me to house sit when she was out of town because she knew I was broke. She hired me to work for her upon graduation, and she encouraged me to pursue doctoral studies. And after serving as my advisor for my PhD, she recommended me to the National Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy (now Healthy Teen Network) when they were looking for an evaluator to implement a nationwide effort to find promising programs.

While supporting me and so many other students, Laurie kept her own research agenda alive with a frenetic energy that led to us call her the “white tornado” (she had very white hair). She also managed to make connections most of us could only dream about. Most notably, she met Bill Gates’ father when he was running their foundation and sowed the seeds that led to their substantial commitment to funding students to advance reproductive health around the world (not to mention funding for Johns Hopkins) that continues to this day.

Despite her impressive accomplishments in applying research to real-world problems and finding the means to do it, I will most remember Laurie for the myriad of ways she found to help the next generation get a foothold in this field—particularly  those who might have been left out otherwise. She will be missed.

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About the Author

Valerie Sedivy, Ph.D., Healthy Teen Network Senior Program Manager, has over 25 years of experience in the sexual health field and currently supports professionals to provide programs and services that empower youth to thrive. Her experience in multiple roles including program provider, researcher, evaluator, capacity-building assistance provider, resource developer and project manager has instilled a passion for translating research into practical messages and tools for field staff.