31 January 2007
New York publisher Rodney Friedman - who conceived of the idea of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter and partnered with the School of Public Health for 25 years to produce it - died on New Year's Day at his home in Redding, Conn. He was 59. He had fought a long, difficult battle against a rare and relentless cancer.
Since its first issue appeared in 1984, the Wellness Letter has grown to be one of the most successful and well-respected publications of its kind, with approximately 300,000 subscribers and one of the highest renewal rates in the industry. The actual monthly readership is estimated to be in the millions.
Friedman's vision was to publish a university-based newsletter on health promotion and disease prevention, which he saw as the future direction of healthcare. He took his idea to Berkeley's School of Public Health (SPH) in 1982.
"We were expecting a New York publisher in a suit and tie carrying a briefcase," said Dale Ogar, managing editor of the Wellness Letter, recalling Friedman's first visit to Berkeley to explore the idea with the late Sheldon Margen, professor of public health, and former SPH dean Joyce Lashof. "What we got was a tall, handsome man in shorts, sneakers, and a baseball cap, carrying a backpack. He immediately fit right in here at Berkeley."
To implement his idea, Friedman bankrolled the venture and entered into what were then groundbreaking contract negotiations with the UC Regents over the right to use the university's name on a commercial publication. He gave the university full editorial control, and he assumed all financial responsibilities. In return, he agreed to pay royalties to the School of Public Health on the gross receipts of all materials published. Over the last 22 years those royalties have totaled more than $11 million, nearly all of which has been earmarked for graduate-student support.
Friedman also promoted the term "wellness," which had been used in some specialized, offbeat contexts but was not widely known at that time. He was passionate about his belief that people would make better lifestyle choices if they had access to accurate, up-to-date information on health matters.
Friedman is survived by Charlotte Milholland; his three children, Alessandra, Jennesa, and Rafer; his mother, Doris; and a brother, Kenneth.
The Rodney M. Friedman Memorial Scholarship Fund has been established to support students at the School of Public Health, especially those specializing in health communications, health media, or wellness. Memorial gifts should be made payable to the UC Berkeley Foundation (note the fund name on the check) and sent to External Relations and Development, School of Public Health, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-7360. Contributions can also be made at egiving.berkeley.edu/urelgift/public_health.html (indicate the fund name in the "Specific instructions for this gift" box).