Besser will succeed Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, who announced in September her intention to step down after leading the $10 billion foundation for fourteen years. The first woman and first African American to head the nation's largest philanthropy devoted to health, Lavizzo-Mourey advanced RWJF's programmatic efforts in important areas, including combating childhood obesity, to which the foundation pledged $500 million over ten years in 2015; promoting health equity; expanding health coverage; and building a Culture of Health in America.
Currently a professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, a distinguished visiting fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, and chief health and medical editor at ABC News, Besser began his career in 1991 in the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service before serving for five years as pediatric residency director at the University of California, San Diego while also working for the county health department on the control of pediatric tuberculosis. Returning to the CDC in 1998 as an infectious disease epidemiologist, he later served as director of the agency's Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response unit and, for a short period in 2009, as acting director of the CDC itself.
Lavizzo-Mourey will continue to serve as the foundation's president and CEO until Besser takes over sometime in April.
"It is truly an honor to be selected to lead RWJF, a foundation so deeply committed to building a Culture of Health in this country," said Besser. "Working to improve the health and well-being of all Americans is a high calling. Doing it here, with an organization of such stature and credibility, will be a great honor and privilege."
"Risa leaves big shoes to fill," said RWJF board chair Roger Fine. "She has been a remarkable leader and visionary. Richard Besser will bring his own wisdom and energy to our work. I'm confident that he will continue the strong, inspired leadership to which we have grown so accustomed."