Richard Thomas Burch Heffernan

Richard Thomas Burch Heffernan

MADISON, WI – Richard Thomas Burch Heffernan, 48, of Madison, previously of Brooklyn, NY and Worcester, MA, passed away peacefully at his home on Sunday, February 24, 2013, surrounded by his family.

He is survived by his beloved wife, June Christy Burch Heffernan, and his two children, Ian Donald Burch Heffernan and Imogen Ann Burch Heffernan. He is predeceased by his infant daughter, Inez Marie Burch Heffernan, and his parents, John T. “Tim” Heffernan and Marie A. (Considine) Heffernan.

He is also survived by his four siblings: John P. Heffernan and his wife Sandra MacKenzie of Jamestown RI; James A. W. Heffernan and his wife Luisa of Worcester MA; Ruth M. Heffernan Marsh and her husband Donald of Bellevue WA; Peter A. Heffernan and his wife Junko Nagano of Arlington MA; and many nieces, nephews and extended family.

He was born July 27, 1964, in Southbridge, MA and grew up in Worcester, MA. He graduated from Doherty Memorial High School in 1982 and from Assumption College in 1987, entering the Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa that same year. He deeply valued his experience in Mali and returned nearly a decade later to visit his friends in the village where he lived. He traveled to many other parts of the world, including extended trips to India and to Gabon, West Africa.

Rick was committed to his career as a dedicated public servant in the field of epidemiology. He was a strong, gentle, and exemplary leader who will be remembered as a trusted friend, a deeply valued colleague, and one who was always calm in a crisis. He often took the role of a mediator and calming influence in tense situations.

He graduated in 1992 from Columbia University, School of Public Health/School of International Affairs in New York, NY with a Master of Public Health and a Master of International Affairs. From 1992 to 1996 he worked for the New York City Department of Health, first as a Public Health Epidemiologist conducting HIV research and then as Assistant Director of the Bureau of Communicable Diseases. He set up the first Health Alert system to enable the NYC Department of Health to provide timely information to city healthcare providers on breaking public health emergencies.

From 1996 to 2001 he was a Ph.D. candidate at Yale University, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, completing all coursework and conducting research on drug resistant infections. During this time he spent a year studying the Ebola virus antibody in northeastern Gabon.

In the wake of 9/11, Rick rejoined the NYC Department of Health and was critical to the Department’s response to the World Trade Center and anthrax letter terrorist attacks. One of his major accomplishments was establishing one of the first electronic emergency department syndromic surveillance systems in the country. He also led the effort to develop the Communicable Disease Surveillance System, improving the city’s capacity to track over 70 infectious diseases.

After moving to Madison, WI in 2007 with his family, he continued his work helping to detect, prevent and manage threats to public health, taking the position of Chief Research Scientist Supervisor for the Wisconsin Division of Public Health, Communicable Disease Epidemiology Section.

He was an author of numerous scientific journal articles, a board member of the International Society of Disease Surveillance, taught workshops on syndromic surveillance for their annual conferences, and gave numerous presentations in his field of expertise.

Since 2007 he has served as Associate Faculty at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine & Public Health, and previously served as Adjunct Lecturer for graduate-level courses at Yale University, Division of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases and at City University of New York, Hunter School of Health Sciences.

Rick was an accomplished guitarist with a unique and soulful style of playing. Music was one of the passions of his life, and he shared it generously with family and friends. He was a superb athlete with a love of the outdoors. He hiked, bicycled, backpacked, swam, skied and skated. As a teenager he taught sailing at a community boathouse in Worcester. He played soccer during high school, college and most recently in a weekly pickup league at Wingra Park in Madison.

Though Rick had many significant personal and professional accomplishments, he strongly felt that his most important role and achievement was being a loving husband to his wife June, and a devoted father to Ian and Imogen, who adored him. He valued and appreciated June’s family, who loved him dearly. He was also deeply devoted to, and loved by, his large extended family of cousins, uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces.

He was profoundly loved by many, who will miss his warmth and gentleness, his delightful sense of humor, his big smile, and the way the corners of his eyes would crinkle up when he laughed.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Rick’s honor to UW Carbone Cancer Center, RE: Richard Burch Heffernan, 600 Highland Ave., K4/658, Madison, WI 53792-6164.

A memorial service celebrating the life of Richard Thomas Burch Heffernan will be held on Sunday, March 17, 2013, at 2:00 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, Madison, Wisconsin 53705. There will be a second memorial service for Rick in his hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts, in early May 2013.