UC Berkeley News


Donald Minkler

06 June 2007

Donald H. Minkler, 85, professor emeritus of maternal and child health and a renowned leader in women's health and family planning, has died. Minkler died of Alzheimer's disease at Salem Lutheran Home in Oakland on Friday, May 4, just hours after his 61st wedding anniversary.


Known as a champion of women's reproductive health, Minkler was actively involved in promoting and implementing family-planning services, first as a private physician, then later as a public-health researcher and educator. He established the Center for Reproductive Health Research and Policy at UCSF in 1983, serving a co-director until his retirement in 1989.

Minkler fervently believed that providing all women, particularly those who are low-income and have limited resources, with access to high-quality, culturally appropriate reproductive services was akin to a basic human right, his friends and colleagues said.

In the 1980s, Minkler literally became the face of family planning when his image was used in full-page ads by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, where he was on the board of directors. The ads, which appeared in national magazines, were created in response to attempts under the Reagan administration to limit access by teenagers to family-planning services.

Born Feb. 19, 1922, in San Francisco, Minkler grew up in the Bay Area, attending Lowell High (where he was a cheerleader and student body president) and UC Berkeley. In 1943 he headed off to Harvard Medical School for his medical degree, awarded in 1947. He then completed an internship and residency at San Francisco's Franklin Hospital and the University of California Hospitals, respectively.

Following his discharge from the military in 1953, he set up a successful private obstetrics/gynecology practice with Dr. Carl Goetsch in Berkeley. The partners embraced innovation and were among the first doctors in the Bay Area to encourage the participation of fathers in the delivery room and the rooming-in of newborn babies with their mothers in the hospital.

In 1968, Minkler decided to leave his private practice to broaden his impact on women's-health promotion. He returned to Berkeley on a fellowship and earned his master's degree in maternal and child health from the School of Public Health in 1969.

At Berkeley, Minkler developed a special interest in international women's health. After completing his master's degree he spent a year in Uganda as a visiting professor at Makerere University. From 1971 to 1973 he served as a medical adviser to the USAID Office of Population in New Delhi. His dedication to international women's-health issues eventually led to his work as a consultant in 26 countries.

Returning to teaching, Minkler held joint appointments at Berkeley and UCSF. From 1973 to 1981 he was an associate professor in residence of obstetrics and gynecology at UCSF, and then was promoted to full professor in residence in 1981. At Berkeley he started off as a lecturer at the School of Public Health in 1975; seven years later he was appointed professor in residence of social and administrative health sciences. He retired from UC and became a professor emeritus in 1989.

Minkler, who was named Alumnus of the Year by the School of Public Health in 2001, held numerous appointments throughout his career, including maternal and child-health consultant to the World Health Organization's Southeast Asia Regional Office in 1973, member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics from 1978 to 1986, president of the San Francisco Gynecological Society from 1980 to 1981, member of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America's Board of Directors International Committee in 1983, and chair of the Population and Family Planning Section of the American Public Health Association in 1987.

Minkler is survived by his wife of 61 years, Betsy Minkler of Berkeley; a son, John Minkler of Fresno; three daughters, Bonnie Bollwinkel of Los Altos, Katie Minkler-Greene of Portland, Ore., and Jenny Hanson of San Ramon; five grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and a brother, Jason Minkler of Livermore.

At the family's request, donations in Minkler's honor may be sent to the Alzheimer's Association of Northern California and Northern Nevada, 2065 West El Camino Real, Suite C, Mountain View, CA 94040; or to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., 434 West 33rd St., New York, NY 10001.

A public celebration of Minkler's life will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. on July 22 at the Faculty Club.

- Sarah Yang