After 47 years, Durham's first female, African American public health director retires

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DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Gayle Harris is retiring after serving as Durham's first female and black public health director for the last 47 years.

Even though she's won all of types of health awards for her leadership, Harris is most proud of the team she's put in place to manage the county's health.

After a recent health scare of her own, she decided after 47 years in public health it's time step away, take care of herself and enjoy life.

"I have been afforded an opportunity to do something that I totally enjoy and to leave it still loving it," Harris said.

She served as the county's first woman and African American Public Health Director and retired Monday

ABC11 asked Harris what does that feel like?

"Old," Gayle said laughing.

Harris' leadership likely had an impact on your life..

If you eat out in Durham, she is in charge of ensuring more than 1,200 restaurants, food stands, public and private lunch rooms and food trucks are inspected, clean and healthy.

In an effort to lower the cancer risk from tobacco, she helped start a smoking ban in 2012 publicly owned city and county parks, bus stops, and government offices

"Just today I stopped at the window and said 'I'm the health director you cannot smoke there.' And pointed to the sign. He said 'Oh excuse me.' He threw it in the street but at least he stopped," Harris said.

More than 300,000 people live in Durham.

Harris' yearly County Health Report measures their overall well-being.

The next director will soon be announced.

Harris is looking forward to traveling and spending time with her husband of 49 years, their children and three grandchildren.
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