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Public Health’s Dr. Clyde McCoy Retiring, Honored for Pioneering Career

The University of Miami celebrates Clyde B. McCoy, Ph.D., professor and chair emeritus of the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences, who will be retiring after an impactful 47-year career with the University.

From chair, professor, academic, to mentor, civil rights activist, athletics enthusiast, and more, Dr. McCoy has made an impact in the University community and beyond.

For 12 years, he served as chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences, where, until this day, he continued to be professor and director of the Comprehensive Drug Research Center (CDRC)—a distinguished University of Miami Center of Excellence that was first funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 1974. Since then, the CDRC has also been funded by the Centers for Disease Control, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and other federal agencies, including the National Cancer Institute, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, as well as foundations and state funding. 

Throughout his career, Dr. McCoy has had 200 publications in leading journals and books, has been honored with over 15 awards, as well as has been a part of 26 professional and honorary organizations. One of them is the Iron Arrow Honor Society—the highest honor attained at the University of Miami—which recognizes individuals in the University community who exemplify love of alma mater, character, leadership, scholarship, and humility. Dr. McCoy was inducted in 1998.

One of his many awards, outside of public health, consists of the most outstanding faculty athletic representative award by the American Football Foundation, where he served as the faculty athletic representative from 1994 to 2012. He was also president of the Atlantic Coast Conference from 2009 to 2010 and served as a member of the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame.

Defining Moments, Early Beginnings

Dr. McCoy was born in Convict Hollow—a small coal-mining community in Virginia—and grew up in the Appalachian Mountains near his ancestral home of the Cherokee, a Native American tribe. He recalls that while his parents did not pursue their education, they instilled the value of pursuing higher learning among him and his siblings. This inspired his work later on in his life on the importance of Native Americans in research and education, understanding your culture, and advocating for first-generation college students.

Another experience that inspired him to help others was when he moved to and began school in Norfolk, Va. in the mid-1950s—during the civil rights movement.

Much to his confusion, he quickly noticed that schools did not allow racial integration. While living in the Appalachian Mountains, he and his family attended churches where anyone had the right to join. As student body president and a leading student-athlete in the school, he strongly advocated for the civil rights movement.

When he graduated high school, he attended the Cincinnati Seminary in Ohio, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theology in 1963. As his desire to advocate for civil rights and to help others live their best lives continued, he enrolled at the University of Cincinnati that same year to pursue studies in sociology and psychology.

At the university, he co-founded the first Black student association, participated in civil rights rallies on campus, and taught in a Black Baptist seminary affiliated with the school. He also continued to play sports.

He would resultingly earn three degrees at the University of Cincinnati, including a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Psychology, as well as both a Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degree in Demography and Sociology. He also attended the New England Epidemiologic Institute, where he earned a certificate in advanced epidemiology.

These defining moments in his early life fueled his passion to lead a career that would be of service to others. 

A Public Health Pioneer

Dr. McCoy eventually went on to make lasting contributions in the field of public health—locally, nationally, and internationally.  

He first joined the University of Miami in 1974 as an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry. That same year, NIDA awarded its first center grant to the University, which enabled Dr. McCoy to establish the CDRC.

To date, the center—housed in the Department of Public Health Sciences—has received over $200 million in funding and has represented cumulative and collaborative efforts of research excellence.

David J. Lee, Ph.D., professor and interim chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences, recalls being a new member of the department when Dr. McCoy took on his leadership role more than 25 years ago but witnessed the difference that he made. 

“He was a passionate faculty advocate who oversaw a critical period of growth in the department in areas of research and teaching, including the launching of our first Ph.D. program in epidemiology,” said Dr. Lee.  

The CDRC has made many opportunities possible for faculty, staff, and affiliates throughout the University and country. It led to multi-disciplinary research, integrating the expertise of many University faculty members based in departments across all campuses, including the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and Departments of Public Health Sciences, Psychiatry and Sociology—among others.

Outside of the University, Dr. McCoy worked with the State of Florida and its many departments, particularly with the Department of Health where he became the chair of the Biomedical Research Advisory Council, as well as for the Center for the Universal Research to Eradicate Disease. In recognition of his many contributions to the Florida Department of Health and the State of Florida, Dr. McCoy was the inaugural recipient of the Senator James King Leadership Award.     

He is also the founding member of the Florida Institute of Public Health and the Miami Dade Public Health Institute, which became the state-wide Florida Public Health Institute.

One of his many national successes is being the founding member of the Special Populations Scholars Group of NIDA, including the National Hispanic Science Network and the American Indian/Alaska Native Special Populations Group, where he mentors a group of Native American researchers.

Internationally, Dr. McCoy has worked with the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization, as well as with individual scientists from international universities to inspire cooperation and share research knowledge. Dr. McCoy and his team have also forged partnerships with research partners in many countries throughout the Caribbean, China, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, which increased the capacity of developing countries to deal with the AIDS epidemic and its affected populations through epidemiological research, clinical trials, and other prevention programs.

Mentorship and A Lasting Legacy

Since his early years, Dr. McCoy knew that he wanted to help others—and he did just that. He has mentored many throughout his career, including Dr. Lee Crandall, Dr. Duane McBride, Dr. Lisa Metsch, and Dr. Dale Chitwood. He has also impacted the lives of students, alumni, research, and administrative staff members.

“Dr. McCoy has had a very long and fulfilling career,” said Margie Jimenez, M.A., C.R.A., assistant chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences. “He has helped and mentored countless faculty, students, alumni, and staff, including me, and for that, we are all very grateful and will never forget his kindness and wisdom.”

Korrine Rodrigue, a senior research associate at the Miller School of Medicine, has worked with Dr. McCoy for 20 years.  

“Throughout his career, he has accomplished many great things in the field of public health because his heart has always been in the right place,” she said. “He has always had the best interest of high-risk vulnerable populations by providing creativity, innovation, intervention, and access to the people who need it the most.”  

Rodrigue also emphasized that although he has an impressive track record of grant funding and publishing, his ability to connect with people, listen, and help those in need is at the heart of who Dr. McCoy is.

“He is an excellent storyteller, a builder of relationships, and always committed to doing the right thing,” she added. “Dr. McCoy has been a wonderful supervisor, mentor, and friend. Even after 20 years of working together, I was still always learning new things from him. I will miss his infectious laugh and calm demeanor even in the most challenging situations.”

Samuel Comerford, an information technology project manager at the Miller School of Medicine, described Dr. McCoy as a visionary, mentor, and leader, but most of all, Comerford says that he is a great friend to all.

“He has helped me, and others excel in work and more importantly, in life,” Comerford shared. “Our friendship became a family-ship, and we share that with UM. All of his contributions and dedication to cancer, drug, and health research for the underserved has changed the way we treat and educate this population. He is and will always be an institution within an institution. The University of Miami is a better place thanks to Dr. McCoy. Go Canes!”

Written by Amanda Torres
Published on May 24, 2021