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Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing remembers international public health nursing pioneer Linda Spencer

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International public health nursing icon and retired U.S. Army Nurse Corps colonel, Linda Spencer passed away November 12.

Spencer dedicated her career to advancing nursing and health care in developing countries. Her passion for caring for those most in need and dedication to improving people’s lives served as the guiding force behind her international public health work.

In her more than 40 years of service to the nursing profession, Spencer criss-crossed the globe to serve many vulnerable populations. She traveled to Pakistan, India, Russia, Nigeria, Liberia, Georgia, and the Ivory Coast to provide nursing care and training. Whether responding to a natural disaster or helping other countries develop a nursing infrastructure, Spencer worked at a grassroots level to improve people’s lives.

"Linda Spencer’s passing is a great loss for Emory's nursing community," said Linda McCauley, dean and professor of the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. "She brought a vision of the importance of public health nursing’s critical role in improving the health of our population. Countless underserved populations and public health nurses will continue to be touched by the legacy Spencer has set forth."

In addition to international public health nursing, Spencer dedicated much of her career to disaster response. A retired veteran, she worked with the American Red Cross as part of a first responder team for natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Her disaster response efforts include deploying to the scene of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, assembling volunteers to support Hurricane Katrina, and assisting Haitian evacuees at Dobbins Air Force Base.

After more than three decades of service to vulnerable populations across the globe, Spencer joined the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing faculty as the coordinator of the school’s former Public Health Nursing Leadership MSN program. She helped develop a disaster-preparedness simulation exercise as part of an undergraduate course in community health nursing. She also secured funding from the Rollins School of Public Health to develop a coalition of nursing schools in Georgia to collaborate on how to introduce emergency preparedness into the nursing curriculum.  

Spencer’s leadership left a lasting impact on many countries worldwide and set a wonderful example for future generations of public health nurses. Her incredible work did not go unnoticed. In 2002, she received the Florence Nightingale Medal – the highest nursing honor given by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland. With Spencer’s award came a touching letter from Max Cleland, a former Georgia senator, Vietnam War hero, and Emory alumnus. In the letter, Cleland congratulated her and expressed to her his belief that public health and disaster nurses like her do more than give care, they are also “givers of hope.”

Services for Spencer will be held at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Atlanta. The wake will take place at 7 p.m.  Friday, November 18 in Mary Chapel. A funeral mass will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, November 19 in Mary Chapel.

Make a gift in honor and memory of Linda Spencer to the Emeritus Scholarship Fund.

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