In Memoriam: Remembering David Jones

By Sayeh Nikpay, PhD, Sarah Gollust, PhD, and Dori Cross, PhD
September 17, 2021

This week, many in the health policy community are mourning the loss of David Jones, an associate professor at Boston University School of Public Health, who died in a tragic accident on Sept. 11, 2021. David’s friends and fellow health policy professors Sayeh Nikpay, Sarah Gollust and Dori Cross share this remembrance.

The impact of David’s loss on his friends, students, colleagues and most of all his family is unfathomable. The loss to the health policy community is also profound, as we will never benefit from all of his insights yet to come.

David’s work examined the politics of health policy decision-making, with keen attention to the people and communities most affected by these decisions. His early work looked at why Republican-led states turned down state control and refused to run their own health insurance exchanges. He tackled such big questions with nuance and thoughtfulness, doing the painstaking work of interviewing policymakers and digging into the state legislative process to illuminate an important paradox that many ACA studies failed to capture. In the months before his death, David was doing similar work exploring how the Trump administration’s delegation of COVID-19 policy decisions to states created the conditions for dramatic health inequities in COVID-19 outcomes across states.

David’s most recent work merged his personal and professional learning about structural racism with intensive data collection and deep ethnographic work in the Mississippi Delta. He examined the systematic and oppressive political structures that maintain the region’s status as the “least healthy place in America.” This work exemplified his curious spirit — embarking on a project where the central method involved listening to people vastly different from him — and it was paired with his robust commitment to translating what he learned for broad audiences, including those with power to make change. 

David also made time to mentor the next generation of researchers and public health practitioners. His junior colleague Paul Shafer commented that David “helped me see that my voice mattered and could make a difference, that kindness and caring had a place in academia.” One student remembered that David “just want[ed] … students to feel loved.” 

As his colleagues, we are bereft for this loss personally and for the field that won’t get the benefit of decades more of David’s research and mentoring. But we hope those working in health policy carry on his legacy, following his example of joyful and selfless service to others, deep curiosity and listening, and commitment to using research to make meaningful policy change.

Sayeh Nikpay, PhD, and Sarah Gollust, PhD, are associate professors and Dori Cross, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.