The Key to a Great Research Career

How do you sum up a career that includes a landmark 40-year study into the natural history of coronary artery disease and hypertension? For epidemiology professor Gerald Berenson, you celebrate with the key to the city, an Olympic-style gold medal, and entrance into the Southeastern Beefmasters Breeders Hall of Fame.

Many current and former colleagues of Gerald Berenson came out to celebrate at the ribbon cutting for the new location of the Bogalusa Heart Study. From left to right, Acy Hartfield, former project direct; Anita Woods, staff with the Health Ahead/Heart Smart program, an off-shoot of the Bogalusa Heart Study; Berenson; Betty Bickerstaff, Health Ahead/Heart Smart staff; and Camilo Fernandez-Alonso, senior scientific research analyst with the Center for Cardiovascular Health.

Many current and former colleagues of Gerald Berenson came out to celebrate at the ribbon cutting for the new location of the Bogalusa Heart Study. From left to right, Acy Hartfield, former project direct; Anita Woods, staff with the Health Ahead/Heart Smart program, an off-shoot of the Bogalusa Heart Study; Berenson; Betty Bickerstaff, Health Ahead/Heart Smart staff; and Camilo Fernandez-Alonso, senior scientific research analyst with the Center for Cardiovascular Health.

While it might be an unusual mix, it’s obvious that the 91-year old researcher commands respect in a number of areas. Most recently, Mayor Charles Mizell, honored Berenson with the key to the City of Bogalusa, home of the Bogalusa Heart Study. At the grand opening of the study’s new location, Mizell talked about what the heart study has meant and continues to mean to the people of Bogalusa, especially the participants who have remained committed to it for over 40 years.

Rita Clayton was a longtime nurse with the Bogalusa Heart Study. She was thrilled to share in Berenson’s big day.

Rita Clayton was a longtime nurse with the Bogalusa Heart Study. She was thrilled to share in Berenson’s big day.

The ceremony was attended by both current and past study staff members and Berenson declared that the honor was really theirs. Without the dedication and commitment of the staff, Berenson said, the study could never have come as far as it has.

A month earlier, Berenson was in Cincinnati with colleagues at the annual meeting of
Epidemiology Professor Gerald Berenson was recognized with the Paavo Nurmi Foundation International award for his work in preventive cardiology. Paavo Nurmi was an Olympic runner from Finland.the International Childhood Cardiovascular Cohort Consortium where he was presented with the Paavo Nurmi Foundation International Award. The award is a golden disc that looks much like an Olympic gold medal, not surprising considering that Paavo Nurmi was a celebrated Finnish runner who earned a dozen Olympic medals, nine of them gold. The award recognized Berenson’s contributions to preventive cardiology.

Epidemiology Professor Gerald Berenson was recognized with the Paavo Nurmi Foundation International award for his work in preventive cardiology. Paavo Nurmi was an Olympic runner from Finland.

Epidemiology Professor Gerald Berenson was recognized with the Paavo Nurmi Foundation International award for his work in preventive cardiology. Paavo Nurmi was an Olympic
runner from Finland.

While much of Berenson’s life history has been spent working with study participants in Bogalusa, he is also a local cattle rancher, with a 1000-acre farm just down the road in Poplarville, Miss. He has been an active participant in the local cattle trade for decades, buying, trading, and selling cattle throughout the Southeast. In September, the Southeastern Beefmaster Breeders Association recognized Berenson’s long ranching history with his induction into their Hall of Fame.

Berenson continues to work with colleagues from around the world and is actively engaged in an effort to archive the history of the Bogalusa Heart Study. At the same time, this country boy with the tenacious and unwavering drive for excellence in all of his endeavors continues his search for that one perfect bull.

—Story and photos by Dee Boling

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About Tulane University SPHTM

Tulane's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine is the oldest school of public health in the country and the only American school of tropical medicine. Our mission is to advance public health knowledge, promote health and well-being, and prevent disease, disability, and premature mortality. This is accomplished through academic excellence in education of public health professionals, rigorous scientific research of public health problems, creative partnerships to advance the practice of public health, and innovative service to the local, national, and international public health community.
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