Marcus M. Key, MD, professor emeritus at UTHealth School of Public Health passed away peacefully on October 31, 2020 at his home in Virginia, surrounded by family.
Prior to joining The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health, Dr. Key served as the first director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) from 1971-1975. As the NIOSH founding director, he led the new agency’s charge to find solutions to workplace safety problems through research, the practical application of public health tools, and health and safety training. Previously Dr. Key served as the assistant surgeon general and director of the Bureau of Occupational Safety and Health.
After serving as director for NIOSH, Dr. Key joined the faculty at UTHealth School of Public Health in 1976. During his tenure at UTHealth School of Public Health, Dr. Key served as the first director of the NIOSH Educational Research Center at UTHealth School of Public Health, and mentored many occupational medicine residents during his tenure. In 1985, he was contacted by Labor Secretary William E. Brock about heading the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). After considering the post, Key opted to continue with his professorship at UTHealth.
Dr. Key’s commitment to health and safety was not limited to his academic role. He was also a stellar public servant in Texas, assuming the responsibilities of City of Houston Health Department interim director and serving as founding executive director of the Mickey Leland National Urban Air Toxics Research Center. In addition to being a gifted leader and administrator, Dr. Key was also a mentor to many students in fields ranging from industrial hygiene and nursing to occupational medicine. He is also remembered for being an active voice and supporter for NIOSH and Occupational Safety and Health for decades after he resigned from NIOSH.
Dr. Key's recommendations for exposure limits to vinyl chloride are noted in the occupational safety and health (OSH) field. These came after the BF Goodrich Chemical Company contacted NIOSH concerning deaths and illnesses in its Louisville factory in 1974. After a coordinated NIOSH investigation, Dr. Key’s published recommendation suggested that vinyl chloride used in the factory resulted in four fatalities from angiosarcoma of liver. Dr. Key brought together industry representatives, researchers, organized labor, and field investigators to set this standard.
Upon retirement from UTHealth School of Public Health in 1993, Dr. Key was named professor emeritus. In September 2013 Shell Oil Company partnered with UTHealth School of Public Health to endow the Marcus M. Key, MD - Shell Occupational and Environmental Health Endowed Chair in honor of Key to provide funding to recruit and retain senior faculty in the school’s Occupational Medicine Program of the Division of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Health.
Dr. Key's official obituary can be read here.