Center for Rural Health director will be remembered as quiet man, proud of employees

Brad Gibbens, left, Mary Wakefield and Gary Hart are pictured in this file image. (Image courtesy of UND Center for Rural Health)

Gary Hart was never one to brag about himself or his accomplishments, but he was constantly talking about the accomplishments of his employees and colleagues in rural health in North Dakota.

Hart, who had been serving as the director for the Center for Rural Health on the UND campus for the past 10 years, died of natural causes on Monday, April 13. He was 72.

Brad Gibbens, who worked with Hart for 10 years at the Center for Rural Health and has known Hart for around three decades, described Hart as a quiet person who was sometimes a little shy around people, but Hart was also someone who had a passion for rural health and someone who had compassion for his employees.

Gibbens said, at some point, after knowing Hart for many years, Hart became comfortable teasing Gibbens here and there, but he also always wanted to ensure he was being respectful and didn’t say something that was out of line.

“It was like a brave step for him being uncomfortable enough to kind of tease me, but he was still conscientious and very sensitive about not wanting to say anything that would offend me,” Gibbens said.


But Hart never passed up an opportunity to talk about how proud he was about the Center for Rural Health and for his employees there.

“He would tell you this stuff nonstop,” Gibbens said. “But he would never ever talk about himself; he wouldn't brag.”

But Hart had a reason to brag, Gibbens said. Hart had a large footprint in the rural health community. Hart was one of the preeminent rural primary care researchers in the country. Over the course of 40 years, he directed two Centers of Rural Health -- Arizona and North Dakota -- and two rural health research centers -- Washington and North Dakota.

Hart also had an extensive list of peer-reviewed publications, many awards and served on a number of national committees, Gibbens said.

Hart was passionate about improving health care for rural people, and especially interested in using research to address a huge range of rural health care policy problems, including rural workforce supply, access to OB care and improving rural hospitals, Gibbens said.

“He was a mentor to many; he was a colleague to many,” he said. “He was just a pretty amazing guy.”

Gibbens will serve as acting director for the Center for Rural Health.

Joshua Wynne, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and interim president of UND, said Hart had a career-long commitment to rural health.


"In his four decades of professional activity, he made many contributions that improved rural health care delivery and thus the health of rural people," Wynne said in a statement. "The Center for Rural Health at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences grew during his decade of leadership as its director, with a 30% increase in staffing and a 25% increase in funding support. This allowed the CRH to better service the people of North Dakota and the region, especially those who live in rural areas."

Sydney Mook has been the managing editor at the Herald since April 2021. In her role she edits and assigns stories and helps reporters develop their work for readers.

Mook has been with the Herald since May 2018 and was first hired as the Herald's higher education reporter where she covered UND and other happenings in state higher education. She was later promoted to community editor in 2019.

For story pitches contact her at or call her at 701-780-1134.
What To Read Next
Get Local