January 14, 2020
Jesse Ortiz, Professor Emeritus of Public Health at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, died peacefully of natural causes on December 31, 2019 at the age of 86 in Washington, DC.
The fourth of ten siblings, Ortiz was born on a farm in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico. Determined to attain an education, he moved to San Juan to attend high school, and put himself through Northwestern University by managing laboratories and teaching laboratory methods. He pursued a career in microbiology and public health, earning a Master's degree from Loyola University in Chicago and a doctorate from the University of Michigan.
Ortiz joined the UMass Amherst Department of Environmental Health Sciences in 1972. His research specialized in environmental parasites, bacterial outbreaks in freshwater, and diseases in migrant farm workers, a topic on which he testified before Congress. He served as the president of the New England Public Health Association in 1999 and 2000.
Ortiz viewed his education as the key that opened doors and he sought to instill that view in his students, serving for many years as Graduate Program Director for the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. After retiring in 2003, he tutored vulnerable and economically distressed students at Homework House in Holyoke, Massachusetts. He was a longtime member of the Newman Center in Amherst, where he organized lay volunteers. Along with his wife Judith, he hosted students for dinner and holidays as family. He was an avid gardener, and he celebrated every holiday and any achievement with vigor.
“When I heard the news of Jesse’s death I contemplated how good he was to me when I started my career 24 years ago as a university professor,” recalls Daniel Gerber, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. “I was hired to teach My Body/My Health to 500 students, and the dean asked Jesse to mentor me. I had never taught university students before. Jesse was so patient helping me through those first few years. I could not have asked for a better mentor! He made the world a better place.”
A funeral mass will be held on January 18, 2020 at 2:00 pm at Annunciation Catholic Church, 3810 Massachusetts Ave, N.W., Washington, DC 20016. A memorial service will be held at a later time at the Newman Center in Amherst.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be offered to the William A. Darity Sr. Graduate Endowment Fund at the School of Public Health and Health Sciences.