Professor Rebecca N. Warburton

A Remembrance from the School of Public Administration 

Rebecca Warburton, an expert in health economics and Professor Emeritus with the School of Public Administration, suddenly passed away on March 13, 2024.
Rebecca was born in Chicago in 1953 and graduated from Cornell University in 1975 with a BA in Economics. Interestingly, her career began as an economic analyst with the Central Intelligence Agency (1976-1980), which funded the next phase of her education. She obtained an MSc in Economics (London School of Economics, 1980) and a PhD in Economics (University of London, 1985). She completed a dissertation on “Methodological Problems in the Economic Appraisal of Emerging Health Care Technology: Three Applied Studies in British Columbia, Canada”, while working for the BC government’s Ministry of Finance and its Treasury Board division (1982-1985) as an economist working on a variety of projects and issues.

The next phase of her career was with the BC Ministry of Health. She first worked for the Health Economics and Planning Branch (1985-1987) on utilization and costing studies, some of which informed negotiations with health practitioner group, along with preparing briefing notes, cabinet submissions, and expenditure monitoring. Subsequently she worked for the Research and Evaluation Branch (1987-1997) specializing in evaluation, health technology assessments, use of linked-data to research purposes, and patient safety and quality in health care. Much of this work involved undertaking and publishing collaborative research on use of linked-data, evaluating digital imaging, magnetic imaging, and lithotripter technology.

Rebecca joined the School of Public Administration in 1999 as a faculty member, where she continued to undertake collaborative health-related research. She taught 504 Public Sector Economics, 544 Economic Evaluation Methods and Approaches, 602 Research Methods in Public Administration, and 620 Policy and Institutional Design. She was the primary supervisor of about fifty 598s and 599s, and supervised two INTD-PhD students to completion. She listened carefully to her students, offered a clear perspective on next steps in life or work when needed, and, in some cases, became their advocate.

Rebecca had a wonderful and quick eye for detail and could quickly identify oversights in any document, no matter how complex. Early on, she was directly involved in raising the School’s game with its web site and regularly contributed to reviews and revisions of our economics, public finance, and accounting courses. Rebecca secured two major awards for collaborative research on “Improving Patient Safety in Health Care: Costs and Benefits Count” as a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Scholar (2002-08) and from BC College of Pharmacists, for Coverage with Evidence Development Project (2008-12). Rebecca often collaborated with her husband and fellow researcher, Bill, on projects.

Rebecca served on the Health Research Initiative Steering Committee, reporting to the Vice President, Research (2001-2004), which was a precursor of the effort to create a Faculty of Health at the University of Victoria. She regularly volunteered as a marshal for the UVic Convocation ceremonies. In community service, Rebecca was involved with Responsible Sewage Treatment Victoria, Association for Responsible and Environmentally Sustainable Sewage Treatment, the CRD Liquid Waste Management Plan Public Advisory Committee, and Cowichan Valley’s Water Management Committee.

From 2009-2012, reflecting her strong engagement with applied policy-relevant research, Rebecca returned on a half-time basis to the Ministry of Health’s Pharmaceutical Services Division, variously working on research advice to inform policy-making, evaluating the BC Smoking Cessation Program, and liaising with the BC Node of the national Drug Safety and Effectiveness Network. Unfortunately and shockingly, she and several of her colleagues in the division were the focus of the sudden 2012 Ministry of Health accusations and firings, which led to public outcry, sustained media interest, and the suicide of Roderick MacIsaac, a PhD student with the School of Public Administration who had been working with the Ministry.

Working with her former MoH colleagues and several supporters, Rebecca launched wrongful dismissal suits against the government and persistently called for a public investigation of the affair. Eventually, after considerable public pressure, the BC Ombudsperson undertook an investigation resulting in a comprehensive 2015 report and indictment of how the Ministry of Health and the government handled matters, finding that none of those fired had done anything wrong, and recommending redress for each of them and funding a scholarship in honour of Roderick. All of those fired won their lawsuits and later received compensation and an apology from the BC government. Rebecca was a fierce, persistent advocate of Roderick’s reputation and a UVic scholarship in his name now benefits our PhD students.

Rebecca returned full-time to the University of Victoria, taking a stronger interest in the rights and protections of faculty members and university governance. She became involved with the UVic Faculty Association executive and served as its Treasurer (2015-2017). She became a member of the University Senate in 2016 and sat on the Senate Budget Committee. Although Rebecca retired from the University of Victoria in 2020 as an Associate Professor, she continued to serve in the Senate: her term was to have ended on June 30, 2024.

Rebecca, husband Bill, and son Dave loved life and the outdoors. For many years, they enjoyed their cabin on Mount Washington, eventually selling it and building a cabin on Lake Cowichan. In recent years, after selling that cabin, they started a morning exercise regime (she had earlier proudly invested in an e-bike, an early adopter). They had recently brought home a puppy, went through puppy training, and enjoyed long walks through Oak Bay. Rebecca loved to talk about life, things going on with her family, and was part of a tight community on the upper part of Oliver Street. She was also recently concerned about the effects that the School’s move to the Faculty of Social Sciences might have on faculty and staff.

Today, we remember Rebecca’s many contributions as a public servant and scholar, her abiding interest in research collaboration across different institutional environments, her interest in and strong support of students and neighbours when in need, and her vibrant and optimistic personality. We offer our condolences to her husband Bill and her son Dave on their loss.

15 March 2024