Robert A. Fordham died peacefully at home of natural causes, surrounded by his family on October 13, 2016. He was 87 years old.
A native of Vermont, Robert was born in 1928 on the eve of the great depression and lived nearly nine decades here and around the world. He grew up in Saxton’s River, VT and attended Vermont Academy. He graduated from the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in 1950 and completed his master’s degree in political science and public affairs in 1952. He served in the U.S. Army as a Reserve Commissioned Officer, leaving service with the rank of Second Lieutenant.
Mr. Fordham served in government under eight Presidents-from the Eisenhower to the Clinton Administration. During the 1950s and 1960s, he worked for several agencies including the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Information Agency, and U.S. Agency for International Development. These positions took him to Finland, India, Egypt, Syria, Switzerland, and Washington, DC. Work to improve health policy was a hallmark of the last four decades of his professional life, including more than 30 years of service in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (formerly Department of Health, Education, and Welfare). He was commended by President Johnson for his role as director of the first White House conference on health, and served as special assistant to the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health, Phillip R. Lee, M.D., in the Johnson Administration.
Fordham was widely admired as creator of a new approach for convening and informing state health leaders about health policy and research, bringing leading experts to meet with elected and appointed officials. Inside government, Mr. Fordham was the original director of the User Liaison Program from 1979-1993, which he designed to convey the findings of health services research to state and local officials. Upon retiring from his career in federal service, he was employed by the Milbank Memorial Fund and was the original program officer for the Reforming States Group which uses similar purposes and methods. These efforts helped to transform the role of research in health policy, particularly at the state level.
Serving on temporary assignment as the Dean of Administration at the University of Vermont from 1967-1972, Mr. Fordham ensured the renovation of the Bennington Monument and protection of sites on campus. Negotiations and collaboration with student government in a time of change were another contribution. He was known for extraordinary management skills and an ability to work effectively with a wide array of people in positions in power and influence. Fordham’s “rule” was to expect the unexpected, which made him an effective planner and administrator. He took it as a great compliment when it was said he had a talent for getting things done.
In his personal life, he was a rugged outdoorsman who loved to fish, hunt, and camp. In later years, he created magnificent and unique flower gardens and spent as much time as possible in nature. He was proud of his Abenaki heritage. Robert Fordham is survived by his wife Kay Johnson, and his three daughters, Monique Fordham (Winooski, VT), Sonja Fordham (Washington, DC), and Robin Fordham and Bill Miller and grandchildren Madeleine and Morgan (Amherst, MA), as well as former wife and mother of his daughters, Ingrid Fordham. He was preceded in death by his parents, Marjorie Spaulding Fordham and Austin Lyle Fordham, and an infant son.