Sometimes a job defines the person, but in Lorraine Duncan’s case, the person defines the job. After 33 years as the Oregon Immunization Program’s manager, Lorraine is retiring. During her tenure—which has lasted exactly half her life—she has come to personify excellence in a state program that has risen to become a national leader.
Before starting her job with the state, Lorraine had a varied career in social services. Fresh out of college, she worked as an adult caseworker for Multnomah County Welfare for two years. “My caseload was on skid row,” she says. “It was a real eye opener for me.” She then worked in Las Vegas for a bit after her twin sister Lois lured her to live in Nevada. “My husband Robert couldn’t stand it! For someone from Oregon, it was impossible for him to live in a place where there isn’t a blade of grass except for Lake Mead. In the summer, when it got so hot the gas in our cars was boiling, he moved back to Oregon. I had to stay to finish out my contract.”
When she returned to Portland to reunite with Robert, Lorraine worked in a few venues, most notably as the director of special programs for the Portland Metropolitan Steering Committee on such projects as improving the health of African Americans and developing a healthcare precursor to the Oregon Health Plan.
On April 1, 1980, Lorraine became the program manager for OIP, a job that has lasted 33 years to the day. “We went from five employees with a tiny budget to 60 employees with a huge budget,” she says. When she started, there were only a few vaccines, no registry and no Vaccines for Children program. Some of Lorraine’s favorite accomplishments include helping to form coalitions and advisory groups such as the Oregon Partnership to Immunize Children (OPIC) as well as the Immunization Policy and Advisory Team (IPAT). “Those partnerships are so helpful. They’re a lot of work but they so pay off.” Lorraine is also proud of helping to build a statewide registry from scratch. Today, the ALERT IIS is considered one of the best immunization information systems in the country.
Lorraine is considered a superstar on the national immunization stage. “She has been a mentor to me in both program management and leadership in our national Association of Immunization Managers (AIM),” says Janna Bardi, Washington State’s immunization program manager. “I’ve really appreciated having one of the best immunization program managers in the nation right next door. Lorraine’s contributions to AIM are huge. She served as chair twice and made a suggestion for structuring quarterly leadership meetings with CDC that has greatly strengthened communication and relationships.”
Though Lorraine is well known and loved across the country, she is most admired and remembered by the people who have worked with her. Dr. David Fleming, public health officer for King County in Washington State, was OIP’s medical director before Dr. Paul Cieslak. “It’s hard to imagine that anyone could have done more to assure the health of Oregon children than Lorraine Duncan,” says Dr. Fleming. “And to have that dedication and skill packaged inside such a caring person brightened my day more times than I can count.”
The people who work with Lorraine on a daily basis feel very fortunate. Many mention her steadfast leadership and the way she pushes the program to achieve important new goals. “Lorraine’s mentorship has been invaluable. She’s taught me much about life in the world as a government agent with a real heart for those we serve. I will forever be grateful,” says Mimi Luther, OIP’s provider services manager who has worked with Lorraine for 15 years. “She’s an amazingly hard worker who truly values the input and creativity of those around her.”
Lorraine is a notoriously dedicated supervisor. “I worked a lot of extra hours and I got a lot of flack for doing it,” she says. “But I liked doing it and I kept doing it.” She says that she is hardly ever sick and gets up every morning wanting to go to work. As proof of her dedication, she is retiring with an accumulation of 3,067 hours of sick leave!
Lorraine also has a reputation for being extremely knowledgeable about all the complicated aspects of immunization. “I’m in awe of the number of details she’s able to keep in her head— about vaccines, grants, meeting deliberations, legislation. You’re going to have to hire three people to replace her,” says Dr. Paul Cieslak, OIP’s current medical director
Lorraine’s secret to her longevity in one job is simple: “I love coming to work. I love the people, I love my job. I love coming to work every day.” She isn’t worried about the program surviving after she leaves with such an “excellent staff.” But she does wonder what she will do in retirement when she leaves at the end of a six-month transition period in September. “Travel, of course (Lorraine and Robert are world travelers), but maybe I’ll find part-time work,” she says. “I can’t imagine not having a job.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Get ready! Oregon Immunization Program’s ImmiNews e-newsletter will now be coming at you every single Wednesday, full of the latest immunization news from across Oregon and the world! Tell your colleagues and friends.