After focusing on curtailing tobacco use for much of his career, Willett will tackle a broader range of health issues in the new job he started this week.
“The foundation has a focus on healthy behaviors, which includes not just decreasing tobacco use but physical activity and nutrition, and public health facility capacity building," Willett said. “My experience includes work across those areas as well. You can apply the approaches that are used effectively in tobacco control to other public health initiatives."
Willett, 40, was born and raised in northeastern Nebraska. He earned an undergraduate degree in journalism and a graduate degree in sociology from the University of Nebraska. He worked for the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation before becoming director of the tobacco control program for the state of New York.
In his new job, he will oversee the health foundation’s grant-making department.
“My role is really to establish strong partnerships and relationships with like-minded organizations and individuals," he said. “The foundation provides funding but relies on partners to do the important work that gets done."
Willett said he took the job because nonprofit foundations “have a tremendous potential to improve health" and because it will be easier to visit family in Nebraska.
Willett and his wife, Brandy, have two boys, ages 6 and 10. He said they enjoy outdoor activities and being involved in the school and community. His wife was co-chair of an elementary school musical, he said, and he chaired the Cub Scouts’ pinewood derby.
“That was one of my last big responsibilities in New York state."