Matthew Tayback, 85, first director of Md. Office on Aging

September 22, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Matthew L. Tayback, a biostatistician and public health advocate who was the first director of the state's Office on Aging, died of cancer Sunday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center's Gilchrist Center. The Homeland resident was 85.

During a long career in public health -- including jobs as deputy Baltimore health commissioner and assistant state health secretary -- Dr. Tayback was in the forefront on such issues as infant mortality, teen pregnancy and tobacco risks.

"He was a talented, extremely competent individual with a lot of experience and knowledge," said former Gov. Marvin Mandel, who named him in 1973 to head the Office on Aging, a sub-Cabinet post. "You could sit down, talk with him and work things out while discussing highly important issues."

Born in Tarrytown, N.Y., Dr. Tayback earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics from Harvard University and a master's in biostatistics from Columbia University. He then joined the Army and served in Europe during World War II.

During the Battle of the Bulge, he used his knowledge of math to calibrate distances for bombardments. He participated in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp and was awarded the Bronze Star and French Croix de Guerre. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves.

In 1949, he moved to Baltimore to earn his doctorate from what is now the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

He worked in the fields of international health, biostatistics and health policy and management. He was also on the faculty of the Hopkins School of Medicine. He served as deputy city health commissioner from 1954 until becoming an assistant state health secretary in 1969.

A 1963 article on Dr. Tayback in The Sun called him "the specialist who gives the city its annual checkup using a slide rule rather than a stethoscope."

Reviewing demographic and census data in the late 1950s, he predicted that Baltimore's population would age drastically as a result of younger families moving to the suburbs.

He also noted racial change in the city, pointing out in a 1959 Evening Sun article that African-American first-graders for the first time outnumbered their white counterparts in the public schools as a result of migration patterns from the South and from Middle Atlantic states.

In 1967, he oversaw the opening of a family planning clinic in Northwest Baltimore where birth-control pills were distributed -- with parental permission -- to sexually active teens.

Dr. Tayback became an advocate for seniors during a decade heading the Office on Aging.

"He was one of the first people to recognize the birth rate was dropping and the life expectancy was extending," said Dr. Pearl S. German, a colleague and professor emeritus at the Hopkins medical school.

"He was an astute, profound man. In all matters related to health and geriatrics, this man was the authority. He was such a humble and gentle man, and so very knowledgeable," said Samuel A. Culotta, former chairman of the city's Commission on Aging and Retirement Education.

Family members said Dr. Tayback worked worldwide to improve health in developing countries. In the early 1950s, he visited Africa to show villagers how to build wells for safe drinking water. He also worked on population planning and reduction of tuberculosis in India.

Through the 1970s and 1980s, he worked as a public health consultant in Pakistan, Ethiopia and Middle Eastern countries. He advised governments on how to improve health systems and teaching in medical schools.

At his death, he was working in Taiwan and Gaza, on the West Bank, where he was evaluating the nutritional status of Palestinians as a member of the Johns Hopkins Center for International Emergency, Disaster and Relief Studies.

In 1993, Dr. Tayback became the biostatistician at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center's general clinical research center.

"He was a tremendous teacher," said the center's program director, Dr. Pamela Ouyang. "You could see the delight in the knowledge and importance of medicine in him."

On a 1999 visit to Baltimore, Queen Noor of Jordan recognized Dr. Tayback's contributions to health in her country.

Dr. Tayback was a member and elder of Govans Presbyterian Church, where he worked for the creation of Epiphany House, a senior citizen residence in Govans. He also worked for the creation of Stadium Place, an affordable senior housing community on the site of the old Memorial Stadium.

"He said to me, `Every church that has a Sunday school building for children should also provide services and housing for their seniors,'" said his pastor, the Rev. Jack Sharp.

"He practiced what he preached," said Dr. Tayback's daughter, Sheila T. Leatherman of Minneapolis, a public health professor at the University of North Carolina who also teaches at Cambridge University in England. "His philosophy was that each of us had a duty to make the world a better place. He was remarkable in the diversity of what he did."

The family will receive visitors from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. today and tomorrow at the Mitchell-Wiedefeld Funeral Home, 6500 York Road, in Rodgers Forge. A private service was being planned with interment at Arlington National Cemetery.

Also surviving are his wife of 59 years, the former Anita Mary Moffat; two sons, Robert M. Tayback of Cockeysville and M. Gordon Tayback of Ruxton; a sister, Sally Fondeur of Plainfield, N.J.; and four grandchildren.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.