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A Tribute to Fred Toca
Fred Toca, PhD, CIH, CSP, FAIHA, has long been recognized as a pioneer and expert in the field of environmental health, on matters such as industrial hygiene management, chemical exposure, toxicology, regulatory interpretation, exposure monitoring, product evaluation, environmental issues, and exposure assessment. If you have never met him, you may be astonished to know that he has been a leader in the profession since it was new.
Back in 1962, Toca received his bachelor’s degree in biology and medical technology from Xavier University, a historically Black college in New Orleans. He then served in the U.S. Army before going on to pursue his master’s in public health and industrial hygiene from the University of Michigan in 1968. There, he studied under one of the most admired professionals in the industrial hygiene field, Warren Cook. He then acquired his PhD in preventative medicine (creating his own course of study) with an emphasis in toxicology and industrial hygiene from the University of Iowa in 1972.  It was 1992 when I first discovered who Fred Toca was and what he meant to the field. I had aspired to become an industrial hygienist. I was a student at Saint Augustine’s College in North Carolina, pursuing my bachelor’s degree in industrial hygiene and safety. St. Augustine’s College was the only historically Black college that had a NIOSH-supported industrial hygiene program. Mr. Roamless Hudson, my advisor, spoke about how pioneers like Fred Toca were responsible for getting the program started and funded in the 1970s. Toca and others would teach, give tours, provide jobs, and mentor students from our program. Many successful industrial hygienists, including me, have been mentored by Fred Toca. Years later, I learned that he had relocated to Atlanta, where I currently reside, so I reached out to him to have a conversation. I last bumped into him at AIHce 1999 in Toronto. After our first conversation, I adopted him as one of my favorite mentors. I am not alone in listening to his wisdom, as many others have gained knowledge from him by working with him, serving with him, and pursuing many endeavors with his support. To us, he represents excellence and what those of diverse backgrounds can accomplish by walking in his footsteps. He encourages us to view minorities as a majority, where the work that we do is bigger and more important than we can ever imagine. Looking at his life and long list of accomplishments, I and others aspire to encourage a new legion of industrial hygienists just like he has over the past 40 years. We have discussed his perspectives on leadership, mentoring, the future of the profession, and life in general.  During my lunch meetings with Fred, I witnessed how sharp he is and how he is always prepared for conversations. He understands how his guidance benefits those who seek his knowledge and opinions. He takes his role as mentor very seriously, once telling me that nothing is more important for our profession than helping younger colleagues navigate challenges in their careers. As EHS professionals, our legacy is in “the people [we] interact with and how [we] change their lives,” Fred told me. “From my perspective, having worked for corporations for most of my life, [my legacy] was the people I had on staff who I could nurture and move along. It amazes me when I look at them now and they have their own companies, because a lot of them worked for me as technicians, and now they have moved along. The people who you impact is the real legacy that you leave behind.” Fred’s concern with helping the people who worked for him was one of his motivations for writing, with Dee Woodhull, the book
Management of People and Programs in Industrial Hygiene
, which AIHA published in 1996. “What I was trying to do [in the book] was basically get technical professionals to move into how you manage people and how you manage programs,” Fred told me. “And at the time I wrote it, it was one of the few books written with the industrial hygienist in mind.”
He became the first, and so far only, African American to serve as AIHA president. 
Fred Toca, right, with John Moore.
I was captivated by the historical perspective Fred gave me on being a passionate and innovative professional. I would ask him many thought-provoking questions about how he, among many others, pioneered the field of industrial hygiene. He would downplay his importance and highlight those who helped him become a successful industrial hygienist. In every conversation he gave credit to his wife, his peers, and the mentors who helped him along the way. It was empowering to hear the humility of a man who had accomplished as much as he had. He is a servant who has dedicated his life to serve others, and to this day he is willing to help others in any way that he can. He regularly sends me inspirational articles from the past and present. He has helped reenergize me as I think about what is next in my career and in life.
For more than 40 years, Fred Toca has used his experience directing, managing, and leading programs in industrial hygiene, toxicology, occupational safety, and environmental sciences. In the 1970s, he was involved in the establishment of the AIHA Laboratory Accreditation Programs. He was appointed to the exploratory committee and later served as chair of the Laboratory Accreditation Committee. AIHA LAP, LLC has since become the premiere organization for the accreditation of industrial hygiene laboratories. 
Fred was elected to the AIHA Board of Directors in 1978, and was elected president in 1988. He became the first, and so far only, African American to serve as AIHA president. During his term, he led the search for a new home for AIHA headquarters, changing its location from Akron, Ohio, to the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and hiring a new CEO. I asked Fred about the strategic plan he put in place as AIHA president in 1989-90, and he revealed that he coordinated the plan with the two people who would succeed him as president, John Henshaw and Robert Sheriff.  “I sat down with Bob and John, and [we] decided what our three focuses would be, because each of us only had one year to serve as president,” Fred told me. “So we talked about what was the best strategy to be successful at our agenda. And I think we did a pretty good job during some challenging times.” In 1996, Fred Toca received the AIHA Borden Award, the forerunner of the Distinguished Service Award, and was granted honorary membership in AIHA. The following year, he received the Henry F. Smyth Award for outstanding contributions to public health and welfare. Years after his term as AIHA president, he was part of the committee that created the AIHA Minority Special Interest Group in 2000. MSIG recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. In 2001, Toca was named a Fellow of AIHA, which recognizes members for contributions to the industrial hygiene profession or related disciplines through research, leadership, publications, education, and service to AIHA.  As you can see, Fred Toca has been actively involved in the practice of industrial hygiene since 1966 until his retirement in 2019. His work experiences and accomplishments are just a very small part of the man we all know him to be. He is not only a devoted son, husband, father, friend, and mentor, but he is a mirror that each of us can look into and see a piece of ourselves. Fred Toca should be recognized for his decorated background and accomplishments because many of us would not be where we are today without his contributions. Thank you, Fred.  
MSIG: Working for Equality in EHS
AIHA’s Minority Special Interest Group, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, addresses issues and concerns within the industrial hygiene and environmental health and safety profession that uniquely affect individuals classified as minorities within the U.S. population, as well as those that affect disadvantaged and low-income workers and other members of the community. You don’t have to be a minority to join: MSIG welcomes all individuals with an interest in seeing equality in EHS. For more information about MSIG or to join, please email John Moore.