Brian R. Flay’s family, friends, and colleagues mourn his loss. He passed away peacefully on February 11 after a valiant battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife Carol Gerber Allred, sister Coral Keoghan-Slow (Trevor), nephew Glen Keoghan (Suzanne and daughter Neve), and niece Julie Ware (Nick). Carol’s family was also grateful to count Brian as one of their own. Sons Keith (Christine), Alex (Lily), and Brad (Misty), along with grandchildren Anna (18), Dan (16), Cate (13), and Eliot (2) join in mourning his loss and celebrating the blessings of our dear connection to him. He is preceded in death by his parents William Trevor Flay and Elsie Emett Flay.
A social psychologist internationally recognized for his research on health promotion and the prevention of disease, smoking, drug abuse, and violence, Brian’s life spanned three continents. Born in Hamilton, New Zealand in 1947, he grew up on the two-hundred-acre farm his father had brought under cultivation. With his sister Coral, Brian enjoyed working the sheep and exploring the vast territory of the farm and the surrounding rural area of Pokoru. He also loved riding horses. Brian rode Tibby for transportation to school and at full gallop across the family’s large paddocks for pure fun. He cultivated his own personal healthy behavior early by feasting on the passion fruit, peaches, plums, raspberries, strawberries, and grapes he and his family grew. With the summer just getting under way in the southern hemisphere in December, some of Brian’s fondest memories growing up were celebrating Christmas vacation on the beach three hours away down winding, gravelly roads.
Brian’s obvious intellectual gifts soon broadened his world. His parents encouraged him to be the top of the class in middle school, which he quickly achieved. With college opportunities before him, he chose first to serve in New Zealand’s equivalent of the Peace Corp. On the island of Borneo in 1966, he helped farmers become more productive during the day and taught English at night.
Brian returned to New Zealand in 1967 to start college at Canterbury University on the southern island of Christchurch. He transferred to the new Waikato University in 1968 because it was more American in organization and offered better opportunities to pursue his already flourishing interest in social psychology. Waikato also happened to be in his hometown of Hamilton. Brian stayed at Waikato, completing in 1976 his D.Phil., the equivalent of the American Ph.D.
Before finishing, however, he earned a scholarship to study for a year at the London School of Economics for the 1973-74 academic year. This gifted New Zealand farm kid adapted to the intense and stimulating metropolitan scene and thrived. He distinguished himself further that year studying under Tom Cook, a legend in social psychology on sabbatical from Northwestern.
The collaboration that year with Tom led to a publication. It was the first of many to come. By the time cancer took him from us, ResearchGate had pegged his total publications at 362. Reflecting a distinctive ability to conduct research that was influential because of its combined rigor and relevance, Google Scholar has recorded an incredible 35,589 citations, so far. His influential Theory of Triadic Influence and other important contributions to our fundamental understanding of the core factors driving the human behaviors that affect our health and well-being ensures that his citations will continue to grow. His is a lasting legacy of contribution. A testament to his impact on the fields of Public Health, Psychology, Health Behavior/Health Theory, and Prevention Science, Brian gained Fellowship status with the Society of Behavioral Medicine (1997), Society for Community Research and Action (1998), American Academy of Health Behavior (2000), and Society for Prevention Research (2016).
His early work with Tom Cook also marked the start of a close friendship and influential collaboration that lasted the rest of Brian’s life. After returning to New Zealand to complete his doctorate, a Fulbright Fellowship facilitated the next chapter in the Brian’s relationship with Tom. Brian joined Tom back at Northwestern from 1976-1978. There, Brian also worked with Donald Campbell, Tom’s long-time collaborator and fellow legend in social psychology. The beneficiary of great mentors, one of his greatest professional points of pride was the success of his many mentees. A 2013 Recipient of the Friend of The Early Career Preventionists Network Award, Brian was a committed mentor to a multitude of early-, mid- and senior-career professionals.
With his Fulbright Fellowship and early promising publications already distinguishing him, Brian embarked from his Northwestern post-doctoral work onto his journey as a professor at many top universities. He started as an Assistant Professor at the University of Waterloo. In 1980, he traded harsh Canadian winters for balmy Los Angeles, joining the faculty at the University of Southern California. Brian served at USC in a series of increasingly senior positions until moving to the University of Illinois, Chicago in 1987. By the time he concluded his service at Chicago, he held a distinguished professorship and directed UIC’s Health Research and Policy Centers.
Love eventually took Brian from UIC to Oregon State University. In 1998, he had met Carol Gerber Allred in Park City, Utah at the Society for Prevention Research annual conference. A Ph.D. herself and the founder and president of the Positive Action program, Carol quickly forged a strong professional connection and an even deeper personal one with Brian. In 2000, the couple returned to Park City to marry. Although implemented in schools throughout the United States and around the world, the location of the program’s headquarters in Idaho challenged Brian and Carol’s yearning to share as much of life together as possible and still make the professional contributions meaningful to each of them. By 2005, Brian joined the faculty at Oregon State University, significantly shortening the travel that had complicated their love affair.
Even the distance between Corvallis and Boise grew intolerable. He joined the faculty at Boise State University in 2013, allowing Brian and Carol to be together fulltime. Throughout their relationship the couple enjoyed an extensive professional collaboration. Brian’s Theory of Triadic Influence and pioneering work in evaluation methodology turned out to be highly relevant for studying the effects of Carol’s Positive Action program in preventing unhealthy and dysfunctional behavior and promoting academic achievement and pro-social behavior in elementary and middle school children. That collaboration produced 38 co-authored articles, chapters, and presentations.
Their shared personal lives were the source of even deeper joy. They relished travel in the United States and abroad together. Maui was a particularly favorite destination. Between their travels, Brian and Carol settled into a life in Idaho rich in family connection. Alex and Brad worked with Brian and Carol at Positive Action. Each son enjoyed spending time in the mountains of Idaho with Brian and Carol. Oldest son Keith and his wife Christine had moved back to Idaho from Boston in 2003 with one-year old Anna in tow and Dan on the way. Keith and Christine had wanted their children to be blessed with close relations with their grandparents and extended family, a blessing that was richly fulfilled. Brian and Carol enjoyed horseback trips and camping in the Idaho high country with Keith, Christine, Anna, and Dan, and, after 2007, with Cate. By the time Alex brought Lily and Brad brought Misty into the family, finally adding more women as Carol had long hoped for, the regular family gatherings had grown large and boisterous. Holidays, birthdays, baptisms, athletic events, and ballet recitals were occasions of deep and satisfying connection for Brian and the loving family who surrounded him. Brian and Carol mostly suppressed their expressions of frustration when Keith, Christine, and the kids headed east again in 2019, this time, to the Washington, D.C. area. Fortunately, the addition of Alex and Lily’s son, Eliot, that same year filled Brian with new joys.
Brian will be deeply missed by his family, friends, and colleagues, though his memory and legacy will continue to bless each of our lives.
Those wishing to honor his life can make a donation to the foundation supporting the Huntsman Cancer Institute.