CUSSW Mourns the Loss of Social Work Legend Helen Rehr (SW’45, DSW’70)

February 15, 2013 @ 7:47 pm

Helen Rehr with Lee Bollinger

Dr. Helen Rehr, CUSSW aluma extraordinaire, has died. She was 93.

Dr. Rehn earned her MS from the School in 1945 and received a doctorate in from CUSSW in 1970. She served New York City and the social work profession in countless ways, leaving her imprimatur everywhere she went.

Dr. Rehr received the Columbia Alumni Federation's Distinguished Service Alumni Medal in 2004 and was named to the Hall of Fame at CUSSW. She was a member of the School's doctoral committee and was known for her generosity. Among other things, she endowed the Helen Rehr Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to students enrolled in the School of Social Work's M.S. program, with a strong preference for promising students who are planning a career in health care. She also set up the Helen Rehr and Ruth Fizdale Professorship Fund in Health and Mental Health, to help CUSSW further shape the national debate on health and social policy.

Dr. Rehr was the retired director (in 1986) of the Department of Social Work at Mt Sinai Hospital, where she developed the social work department, taking it to national prominence with its orientation to research as integral to practice. While directing social work at Mt Sinai, she also served as director of the academic division of social work and of the division of continuing education at the Brookdale Center. Her scholarship included more than 100 articles, books, and chapters on innovative social work practice and policy.

Dr. Rehr's passion for excellence and teachings on social justice had worldwide impact. She held visiting professorships at the University of Pennsylvania, Ben Gurion University, Hebrew University, and Haifa University. She was a principal creator of the Mount Sinai Leadership Exchange Program, which enhances the skills of social work leaders from Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

She was named a Social Work Pioneer by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Foundation, the premier professional association for social workers.

Until her death, Dr. Lehr was professor of community medicine emerita and consultant on social and health research, education, and program planning at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and Medical Center.

"Helen was an original and as such will be impossible to replace," said Dean Jeanette Takamura. "She was full of fire and spice, particularly about her belief that social work practice had lost its way in the decades after the 1980s." She added: "We celebrate her life, her many contributions, and her unwavering commitment to social work."

The memorial service for Dr. Helen Rehr took place on February 14 at the Plaza Jewish Community Chapel at 91st and Amsterdam.