In memory of Public Health Advocate Harry Snyder

The country lost a leading voice for public health advocacy when Harry Snyder, JD, a popular teacher at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, died on February 10, 2023. He was 85 years old.

At the time of his death, Snyder was Advocacy Leader-in-Residence at the Center for Public Health Practice and Leadership and lecturer in health policy and management at the school, where he taught public health advocacy classes.

When colleagues at Berkeley Public Health learned of his death, one word kept popping up: human.

“Harry was human. A wild person who knew we could do better,” said Lori Dorfman, associate professor at Berkeley Public Health and director of the Berkeley Media Studies Group, a public health advocacy group. She said that for Snyder, “our most pressing public health problems were mysteries that needed solving, and he knew we could solve them if we just put our minds to it.”

“Knowledge was never enough for Harry; we had to do that, too,” Dorfman said. “He championed public health advocacy because nothing frustrated him more than knowledge buried in academic journals instead of being applied to policy out there in the world. He wanted Berkeley Public Health to increase advocacy to make sure we were doing everything we can, not just to study health, but to create health. He believed in us.”

Robert Ross, President of the California Endowment, wrote, “Harry dedicated his professional life to legislative and consumer advocacy for California’s poor, uninsured, marginalized and oppressed communities.”

Berkeley Dean of Public Health Michael C. Lu said, “He was a beloved teacher and passionate about teaching advocacy as a driver of social change.”

Snyder was born in Los Angeles in 1937. He attended USC and then UCLA, where he earned a law degree. After a stint in the Peace Corps living in India, Samoa and Nepal, Snyder and his family moved to Mill Valley, California. In the mid-1970s he became West Coast director of Consumers Union, the publisher of consumer reports. During his long tenure there – he retired in 2002 – Snyder became known as one of California’s most persistent and outspoken consumer lobbyists.

“Harry created the toughest corporate executive accountability law in the nation — requiring California executives to be personally liable for knowledge of workplace deficiencies or hazards that they fail to disclose,” Jamie Court wrote in an obituary published on the became consumer watchdog Website. “As Director of the West Coast Consumer Union, Harry has made other landmark changes to protect our access to quality healthcare.”

For the next two decades, Snyder taught advocacy at Berkeley Public Health and was also a director at Cy Pres Funds, where he distributed more than $70 million in class action fines to appropriate recipients.

“His vision was to mold brilliant young public health students into passionate and genuine advocates who could make the world a kinder and fairer place, especially for those who were victims of structural racism and poverty,” said a longtime friend and collaborator Toni Iton. “He worked with several Berkeley public health deans to help get the academy on the road and the legislature to translate public health science into equitable and enduring public policy. He was always there for his students, helping to support and guide their careers long after they graduated. He was both an idealist and a pragmatist who never gave up on a good fight and never made his opponents feel disrespected.”

In 2020, Snyder and Iton were co-authors Advocating for Public Health Policy Change: An Urgent Needwhich Physicians for a National Health Program has called “a treasure trove of guidance for urging healthier public policies.”

Snyder is survived by his wife Vivian C. Snyder, three children and eight grandchildren.

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