Antronette (“Toni”) Yancey was born in Kansas City, Kansas on 1 November 1957 and studied for a BA in biochemistry and molecular biology at Northwestern University in Illinois (1975-79), where she excelled at basketball, followed by an MD at the Duke University School of Medicine in North Carolina (1979-82). She went on to undertake residency training in psychiatry at the Duke University Medical Centre (1982-84).
After starting in general practice, Professor Yancey branched out to serve as adolescent medicine director at the Sheltering Arms Children’s Service in New York (1985-92). She later became director of public health for the city of Richmond, Virginia (1996-98), and then director of chronic disease prevention and health promotion in the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (1999-2001).
From 2001, however, she took on a full-time academic post as adjunct professor of public health at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she was promoted to tenured associate professor in 2004 and full professor in 2007. In 2004, Professor Yancey co-founded the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity as part of the Fielding School of Public Health, where she worked as co-director until her death.
A major researcher in the fields of disease prevention and adolescent health who produced more than 75 peer-reviewed articles and editorials, Professor Yancey also wanted to transform lives. She regularly appeared as a health commentator on KPCC, a local affiliate of National Public Radio. She created a programme to incorporate brief bouts of physical activity into people’s daily routines, which was published in the highly successful book Instant Recess: How to Build a Fit Nation 10 Minutes at a Time (2010). And she was appointed a director of the Partnership for a Healthier America, the non-profit organisation that guided Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign.
In addition to her achievements as a medical researcher and activist, Professor Yancey collaborated with artist Todd Berrien on An Old Soul with a Young Spirit: Poetry in the Era of Desegregation Recovery, published in 1997, and recorded a CD with musicians Ciro Hurtado and Kim Jordan, Renaissance Woman/Race Woman (2001).
Jody Heymann, dean of the Fielding School, called Professor Yancey “a true Renaissance woman” and “an extraordinary life force” who was “passionate about improving the health of vulnerable populations and devoted her career to eliminating health disparities”.
Professor Yancey died of lung cancer on 23 April, and is survived by her long-term partner, Darlene Edgley, and their daughter Kanitra.