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Safety First, Always

June 30, 2020 by Alexander Gelfand

The Bloomberg School’s Sue Baker supports a new generation of public health experts

This story first appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Planning Matters, a newsletter published by the Office of Gift Planning.

A lot of people are grateful to injury prevention expert Sue Baker, professor emerita at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

And with good reason: Known as the mother of injury prevention, Baker graduated from the School of Public Health in 1968 and pioneered an entire scientific discipline dedicated to preventing intentional and unintentional injuries and blunting their effects, improving — and saving — countless lives. Her research on automobile crashes fueled efforts by safety advocates to push for child car seat laws that have helped reduce the risk for death to infants in car crashes by 71%.

At the same time, she trained several generations of public health experts who happily credit her with their careers. But the gratitude goes both ways. Baker has spent decades giving back to the university that has been her professional home since the 1960s — a home she formerly shared with her late husband, Timothy Baker, MD, who graduated from the School of Public Health in 1954 and served more than 50 years as a faculty member and professor there before passing away in 2013.

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am to Johns Hopkins — not only for my 50-plus years on the faculty, but for the enormous privilege of teaching such wonderful students,” she says.

Sitting on a sofa, Sue and Tim Baker appear in a painted portrait.
Sue and Tim Baker made a series of significant gifts focused on supporting Bloomberg School of Public Health students. Portrait by Ingrid Egeli McGuckian.

Sue and Tim Baker made a series of significant gifts to the School of Public Health focused on supporting students in areas ranging from injury prevention and gun control to international health. Their preferred instrument was the Johns Hopkins charitable gift annuity (CGA), which provides a fixed stream of income for life to the donor and/or a loved one while ensuring that the remainder goes to the donor’s designated purpose.

“It’s a wonderful gift arrangement,” says Baker. “A large part of my income now comes from gift annuities.” With assistance from the Office of Gift Planning, Baker recently established a creative mix of CGAs and a gift from her estate to support students involved in her latest initiative: Safety by Design.

The initiative aims to make injury prevention an integral part of the design process for everything from consumer products to the built environment. It will also draw on the resources of the schools of Engineering and Medicine.

To get the ball rolling, Baker and colleagues from the schools of Medicine and Engineering introduced a new course, Killer Design, last spring. Students analyzed the risks posed by products ranging from snowblowers (amputation) to Venetian blinds (strangulation) and were invited to redesign them to be nonhazardous.

“At this point, my real passion is to get people who are designing anything manmade, whether it’s a curbstone or a chandelier, to think early on in the game, ‘I want to be sure this doesn’t hurt anybody,’” Baker says. “Safety is something you should be thinking about from the beginning, rather than after people have been hurt.”

Baker made sure that the terms of her gift were flexible enough to ensure that the funds in the Safety by Design Scholarship can be used for whatever students most need. She even decided to make an outright gift — donating the annual payments from one newly established CGA — to help cover running expenses.

“The remaining funds will make it possible to carry on with Safety by Design when I’m no longer on the scene,” she says. “But the current payments will provide some money for the program to work with every year.”

Baker’s gifts to Safety by Design are remarkable considering what she and her husband have already given to the School of Public Health in both service and support.

But from Baker’s perspective, it’s the least she can do.

“I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Johns Hopkins,” she says. “And this is one way of trying to repay a little bit of that.”

Portions of this story were adapted from “Change the World, Baker,” published in the Spring 2020 issue of Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health Magazine. See the story.

Header photo by Chris Hartlove

Topics: Alumni, Faculty and Staff, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Support Scholars