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Durham County to Honor Gayle Harris

Retiring Public Health Director Celebrated for Nearly Five Decades of Service

Post Date:09/29/2019

Durham, NC – After 47 years of service, Durham County Public Health Director and General Manager for Public Health and Community Well-being Gayle Bridges Harris will retire on Monday, September 30, 2019. On her last day with the County, a celebration will be held to honor her impactful work that has improved the quality of life for the people of Durham. The media is invited to attend the invitation-only event which will include highlights spanning her professional career, guest speakers, and a special presentation.


The event will take place from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m., at the County Human Services Building, 414 E. Main Street, in Conference Rooms A, B, and C.


Harris began her career with Durham County in 1972 as a staff public health nurse following her graduation from Duke University. She rose through the ranks of the organization to become director of Public Health in 2009. In 2016, her opportunity to lead evolved when she was named General Manager for Community Well-being; the County’s Strategic Plan Goal 2 focused on decreasing health disparities within the community and strengthening the well-being of individuals and families through prevention and education. Harris has held this position in addition to her role as Public Health Director. Her professional experience is impressive and includes:

  • General Manager for Community Health and Well-being , Durham County Government, Durham, NC, April 25, 2016 – present
  • Public Health Director (and Deputy Register of Deeds), Durham County Department of Public Health, Durham, NC, February 1, 2009 – present
  • Acting Public Health Director, Durham County Health Department, Durham, NC, October 2008 – January 2009
  • Assistant Health Director, Durham County Health Department, Durham, NC, 2002 – October 2008
  • Director of Nursing, Durham County Health Department, Durham, NC, 1989 – 2002
  • Home Health Program Manager, Durham County Health Department, Durham, NC, 1988 - 1989
  • Home Health Supervisor, Durham County Health Department, Durham, NC, 1986 - 1988
  • Home Health Coordinator, Durham County Health Department, Durham, NC, 1983 - 1986
  • Public Health Nurse Team Leader, Durham County Health Department, Durham, NC, 1981- 1983
  • Public Health Nurse I (part-time), Durham County Health Department, Durham, NC, 1979 - 1981
  • Public Health Nurse II, Durham County Health Department, Durham, NC, 1974 - 1979
  • Public Health Nurse I, Durham County Health Department, Durham, NC, 1972 – 1974

During her tenure, Harris has worked to ensure that residents of Durham County received compassionate health care despite their life circumstances. Her commitment to the overall health of Durham’s residents was exemplified as she led Durham County’s Public Health Team to receive the coveted Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health Prize in 2014. That honor is bestowed upon communities that harness the collective power of leaders, partners and stakeholders to help residents live a longer, healthier life.


Harris’ guidance and leadership has proven to be invaluable for many individuals and organizations. Her expertise was sought by more than 60 boards and committees in Durham and State of North Carolina. She also amassed an extensive list of accolades since her early days as a public health nurse. She received the Ham Stevens Award for Outstanding Contributions to Local Public Health, North Carolina Association of Local Health Directors, was named as a Distinguished Alumna by the Duke University School of Nursing and most recently the Service for Humanity Leadership Award from the Durham Alumni Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated.


Under Harris’ leadership, Durham County led the way in implementing rules and policies designed to protect the public health of the entire community. She played an instrumental role in implementing a Smoking Rule adopted by the Durham County Board of Health in 2012. In recent months, she encouraged the Board of County Commissioners to sign the Fast-Track Cities Paris Declaration to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.


Harris has created a legacy of boldly expanding the scope and attainment of public health goals in Durham. An interim director for Durham County Department of Public Health will be assigned to lead the department until Harris’ successor is announced.


For more information about this release or Harris’ retirement, contact the Durham County Public Information Office at




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