Dr. Elizabeth Barrett-Connor is an optimist

Dr. Elizabeth Barrett-Connor is a Distinguished Professor and Chief, Division of Epidemiology, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

She is also founder and director of the Rancho Bernardo Heart and Chronic Disease Study, now in its 37th year. Since 1972, the RB study has greatly increased knowledge of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, exogenous and endogenous hormones and the connections between lifestyle, behavior and health.

Barrett-Connor has served as principal investigator of several multicenter clinical trials and is author of more than 800 publications.

She and her husband have five children and seven grandchildren.

What brought you to La Jolla?

I followed my husband. He was recruited to be the chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UCSD School of Medicine and we were a package deal. Dan Steinberg and Joe Stokes gave me the opportunity - as an epidemiologist - to run a new study. That was the beginning of the Rancho Bernardo Study, which is still going strong nearly four decades later.

What makes La Jolla special to you?

The sea. I’ve always loved the sea and hoped I would someday be able to go there regularly. And, now, I can walk to it.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in La Jolla?

I would outlaw all the McMansions. There are so many houses that are too big for the land they occupy.

Who or what inspires you?

All of my colleagues, over the years. They always surprise me with the wonderful things they do. They have taught me everything I know. Many people say I’m their “mentor” but really I was the “mentee” all these years. And I’m still learning.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

In putting together this group, I thought about who I would like to talk to and also who would make a good dinner party combination, based on their interaction and interests. I came up with 10.

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

Theodore Roosevelt and his daughter, Alice

John and Abigail Adams

FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt

Hillary and Bill Clinton

If we could seat 12, I’d also like to add President and Bess Truman. My father played cards with President Truman, back when we lived in Independence, Mo.

What are you currently reading?

“The Zookeeper’s Wife,” by Diane Ackerman and “The Shock Doctrine,” by Naomi Klein.

What is your most prized possession?

Good health and high energy.

What do you do for fun?

Walk, read and spend time with my grandkids.

Please describe your greatest accomplishment.

That would have to be the Rancho Bernardo Study. That’s made my entire career and a lot of other people’s careers. The data just keeps coming in. Of course, we owe that success to the Rancho Bernardo participants. They’re still answering my letters after 37 years. It’s really a remarkable group of dedicated people.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

I don’t have a particular motto or philosophy so much as an attitude. My defining principle is that I’m a pathological optimist.