Eva J. Salber and Harry T. Phillips were born in Cape Town, South Africa in the early part of the 20th Century. They met at the University of Cape Town Medical School, where they both earned M.B.Ch.B. degrees (the equivalent of an M.D.in the U.S.) in 1938. They later earned post-graduate Diplomas in Public Health (DPH) and Doctorates in Medicine (M.D.) also from the University of Cape Town.
They were married in 1939, and while still in South Africa, they had four children: David, now a Professor of Sociology; Mark, a Professor of History; Rosalie, a health care administrator and educator; and Philip, an investment adviser. After World War II, Drs. Phillips and Salber became pioneers in establishing community health centers in South Africa to bring up-to-date medical care to black, mixed-race, and Indian populations in a culturally sensitive fashion. Troubled by increasingly aggressive apartheid policies in South Africa, they emigrated to the United States in 1956 with their four young children.
In Boston, Massachusetts, Dr. Salber taught and conducted epidemiological research at the Harvard School of Public Health (1957–1966). In 1967 she became the first Director of the Martha Eliot Health Center, located in an underserved neighborhood of Boston. The Center was based on the South African community health center model. During her time in Boston she was also honored as a Radcliffe Scholar through the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study (1966–1967), and as a Macy Fellow (1969–1970).
In Boston, Dr. Phillips held successive positions at the Harvard School of Public Health, the City of Newton, Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, where he was the Director of the Commonwealth’s Division of Chronic Disease.
In 1971, Drs. Phillips and Salber moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. At the University of North Carolina Dr. Phillips became the Head of the Health Systems Agencies training program within the School of Public Health; and in 1979 he became the School’s first Director of the Program on Aging. He retired in 1983 as emeritus Professor of Public Health, but continued to teach as an adjunct professor, with a particular emphasis on gerontology and healthy aging.
In North Carolina, Dr. Salber was a Professor of Community and Family Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine (1971–1982), where she directed a Community Health Models Program and established a community health facilitator’s training program. She had a special interest in social medicine, healthy aging, and the lives and values of rural elders living alone. She also enjoyed mentoring young medical students, particularly young women striving to manage careers and families.
Drs. Salber and Phillips were married for 51 years until Eva’s death in 1990. Dr. Phillips passed away in 2004, and until his death remained actively involved with the Salber-Phillips award ceremonies.
The careers and lives of Harry Phillips and Eva Salber were epitomized by their empathy and compassion and the depth of their commitment to the health of all people, particularly those who are disregarded and underserved. Their work endeavored to address the social, political, and economic determinants of health and disease and was characterized by a broad community-based approach to health.
To foster and recognize these values in young physicians, Dr. Phillips established the Salber-Phillips Award in 1993. Through the Salber-Phillips Award, UNC medical students in their second through fourth years are recognized for their community-oriented projects that improve the health or well-being of older adults, 65 years of age or older. Through the recognition of these projects, the commitment of Eva Salber and Harry Phillips to the health of all people, especially those in rural and underserved communities, lives on.
The legacy is carried on by the Phillips children some of whom make annual appearances at the Salber-Phillips award ceremony since their father’s passing in 2004.