Marcia Childress, Faculty Leader and Mentor, Named 2009 Zintl Award Winner

September 17, 2009

September 17, 2009 — Marcia Day Childress, director of humanities programs in the School of Medicine's Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities and described as "a major uniting force for the University," will receive the 2009 Elizabeth Zintl Leadership Award.

The U.Va. Women's Center, which sponsors the award, will hold a reception to honor Childress on Oct. 1 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections Library.

Childress is an associate professor in the School of Medicine, where she teaches courses such as "Literature and Medicine," "Death in America/ Palliative Medicine" and "Ethical Values and Professional Life," and recently received the school's top teaching honor, the David A. Harrison Distinguished Educator Award. She also directs the weekly interdisciplinary forum, the Medical Center Hour, which brings to U.Va. nationally recognized experts on health-related issues that intersect with society and culture, law and biomedical ethics, religion and spirituality.

However, her impact has been felt far beyond the Medical School. She has been involved with the life of the University for more than 30 years, coming to U.Va. first as a graduate student in English and most recently serving as a member of the steering committee for the Commission on the Future of the University. She has worked on countless other committees and held several leadership roles, chairing the Faculty Senate in 2004-05.

Along with her achievements and cross-disciplinary efforts in teaching and service, Childress' supporters – academic leaders, colleagues and students – stress her personal mentoring and influence. Referring to her lengthy curriculum vitae, special assistant to the provost Laura Hawthorne, who nominated her, wrote: "For each committee you see listed, for each student researcher's name, for each course she has taught, there is a story of a life that has been fundamentally changed for the good."

Childress said it was humbling to be chosen to receive the award and also bittersweet, because she had worked with the award's namesake, Elizabeth Zintl, the late writer and journalist who served as President John T. Casteen III's chief of staff until her death in 1997.

"Whenever an honor like this comes your way, you end up reflecting on your career, and it's a useful exercise," Childress said, calling hers "a dream job."

She credited the extraordinary people she has worked with, saying, "Those people are what make you want to get up in the morning."

"Her work has literally transformed the background in humanities with which U.Va. physicians approach the doctor-patient relationship," wrote Dr. Robert M. Carey, former dean of the Medical School, in support of her nomination. Childress "has brought together and enriched the scientific and social elements of our institution, catalyzed interdisciplinary thinking and propelled collaboration among several schools, toward better understanding of mankind and consequently, the individual patient," he said.

Appointing Childress as co-director of the Humanities in Medicine Program in 1996 was one of the best decisions he made as dean, Carey said.

Twenty years earlier, she began working in the Medical School for Dr. Edward Hook, who created the Humanities in Medicine Program. Childress said she fell in love with medicine and began reading medical books in her spare time. Although she considered going to medical school at one point, she decided to stick with the humanities angle. She had become an assistant professor when she and Dr. Julia Connelly took Hook's place after he retired.

The Program of Humanities in Medicine merged in 2007 with the Center for Biomedical Ethics to become the Medical School's Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities, directed by Dr. Daniel M. Becker, professor of medicine.

Childress' commitment to the University has included input on women's issues and faculty governance. She served on and chaired the President's Advisory Committee on Women's Concerns from 1995-98 and was a member of the Task Force on the Status of Women at the University in 1999. She continues to sit on the School of Medicine's Committee on Women.

She became a faculty senator in 1991 and chair-elect in 2003, as well as working on several committees, including planning and development.

"She was instrumental in the Senate's formation of its committee on planning and development, which now engages faculty more fully in the conversations that shape the University's fundraising and planning efforts," Hawthorne said.

"Her advocacy for faculty input on key issues of University policy and strategy has assisted senior administrators and the rank and file of faculty in their teaching and research," said Kenneth Schwartz, who succeeded her as Faculty Senate chairman and is now dean of Tulane University's School of Architecture.

Childress helped write "A Faculty Senate Vision for U.Va.," which was used as the basis for the lead document of the Commission on the Future of the University.

She also had served on the Women's Center's selection committee for the Zintl Award.

"It wasn't until the committee reviewed her vita in detail and read the extraordinarily powerful letters of nomination that we understood the depth as well as breadth of her influence," said Women's Center associate director Ginger Moran, who oversees the Zintl Award process.

"Her direction as a collaborative leader, the breadth of her vision, the depth of her insight and the power of her pen have helped the University move forward on a large scale," said Elizabeth Powell, assistant professor of management communication in the Darden School, who has worked with Childress on several committees and considers her a kindred spirit and a role model. "As Marcia contributes to the University's core academic excellence in these many ways, she does so with a joy and elegance."

Childress is the 14th recipient of the Zintl Leadership Award, supported by a gift from the late David A. Harrison III. To attend the reception, R.S.V.P. to or 434-982-2911, by Sept. 24.

— By Anne Bromley