The board of trustees, president, staff, and the entire Carnegie Corporation of New York community extend their deepest condolences to the family of David A. Hamburg, president emeritus of the foundation. Dr. Hamburg was a physician, educator, and researcher in the medical and psychiatric fields, and the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian award. He died on April 21, in Washington, D.C., at the age of 93, following a brief illness.
From 1982 to 1997 Hamburg led Carnegie Corporation of New York, the philanthropic foundation established by Andrew Carnegie in 1911. Under his leadership, the Corporation intensified its efforts to generate and apply in-depth knowledge to address critical societal challenges in the fields of education, health, scientific advancement, and international peace and security.
Hamburg introduced an entirely new focus for the Corporation — the danger to world peace posed by the confrontation of superpowers holding weapons of mass destruction.
“David Hamburg was a respected scholar and a visionary leader who followed in the footsteps of our founder, Andrew Carnegie, in leaving a rich legacy of promoting peace, democracy, child and adolescent development, and education for all,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York. “Coming from a medical background, David believed prevention was the key to addressing global challenges in the United States and sub-Saharan Africa. One of his greatest accomplishments was to lay the groundwork for what became known as the Nunn-Lugar Act, a bridge of understanding, which helped bring about the denuclearization of the former Soviet republics. We are saddened to lose David, who was a great human being and an outstanding president of the Corporation.”
At the time of his death Hamburg was involved with numerous organizations. He was DeWitt Wallace Distinguished Scholar at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, an advisor and distinguished fellow with the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and a distinguished presidential advisor on international affairs with the National Academy of Sciences, where he was past president of its Institute of Medicine. In addition, Hamburg served on a range of boards and councils, including the board of the Carter Center, the advisory board of the Center for Preventive Action of the Council on Foreign Relations, the advisory council of Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and the Harvard International Advisory Council.
Born in 1925 in Evansville, Indiana, Hamburg attended Indiana University and its medical school, receiving his MD in 1947. He was trained as a psychiatrist and taught at Stanford and Harvard universities. Hamburg conducted groundbreaking research into the psychological and biological causes of depression while working for the National Institute of Mental Health.
Hamburg once said that the common thread running through his life’s work was "the prevention of rotten outcomes," emphasizing the use of scientific research to help meet social needs. “Prevention begins with anticipation,” he said, “even with long-range foresight, in which research can identify risk factors and point to steps that can be taken to counteract or avoid an undesirable outcome, and pivotal institutions can cooperate in shaping behavior away from risk factors and dangerous directions."
Hamburg’s preventive orientation provided the framework for Carnegie Corporation of New York’s initiatives in conflict reduction as well as in the areas of education reform and child development. For example, in 1984 the Corporation established the Carnegie Commission on Education and the Economy. Through its major publication, A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century (1986), the foundation reaffirmed the role of the teacher as the "best hope" for ensuring educational excellence in elementary and secondary education. An outgrowth of that report was the establishment of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, tasked with finding ways of attracting and retaining qualified teachers. In 1994 the Corporation issued a report entitled Starting Points: Meeting the Needs of Our Youngest Children, which served as a call to researchers, policymakers, educators, and parents to refocus much needed attention on the development and nurturing of children during their early years.
Hamburg introduced an entirely new focus for the Corporation — the danger to world peace posed by the confrontation of superpowers holding weapons of mass destruction. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Corporation grants helped promote the concept of cooperative security among erstwhile adversaries along with projects to build democratic institutions in the former Soviet Union. A key undertaking was the Prevention of Proliferation Task Force, coordinated under a grant to the Brookings Institution. This important task force inspired the Nunn-Lugar Amendment to the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991, which aimed to dismantle Soviet nuclear weapons and reduce proliferation risks.
Applying his approach toward prevention, Hamburg established the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict. Cochaired by Hamburg and former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, the Commission brought together the world’s leading experts and former policy officials to focus on preventing conflict escalation.
Beginning in the mid-1990s the Corporation addressed the problems of interethnic and regional conflict, supporting projects that worked to diminish the risks of wider wars stemming from civil strife. Applying his approach toward prevention, Hamburg established the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict. Cochaired by Hamburg and former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, the Commission brought together the world’s leading experts and former policy officials to focus on preventing conflict escalation. In another shift, the Corporation's thrust in Commonwealth Africa turned to women’s health and leadership development and the application of science and technology, including new information systems, in fostering research and expertise within indigenous scientific institutions and universities.
In the international security field, Hamburg served on many policy and advisory boards, including the National Academy of Sciences Committee on International Security and Arms Control. In 2006 United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Hamburg to chair the UN Advisory Committee on Genocide Prevention. In science policy Hamburg chaired numerous committees within organizations such as the Institute of Medicine and the National Science Foundation. In 1994 he was appointed to the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Hamburg established a number of task forces on areas of the Corporation’s work, producing seminal research and policy analysis that continue to influence work in those fields. He authored several books, including Preventing Genocide: Practical Steps Toward Early Detection and Effective Action and Learning to Live Together: Preventing Hatred and Violence in Child and Adolescent Development (written with his wife). His final book, an autobiography entitled A Model of Prevention: Life Lessons, was published in 2015.
Hamburg was predeceased by his wife of more than 65 years, Beatrix A. Hamburg. He is survived by their two children: Eric N. Hamburg of greater Los Angeles, a writer and film producer; and Margaret A. Hamburg of Washington, D.C., former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, former commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and current chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Hamburg is also survived by three grandchildren.
Read the obituaries in The Washington Post and The New York Times, reflections from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a tribute to Dr. Hamburg and Senator Richard Lugar from The Aspen Institute.