A Man’s Legacy through Others: Remembering Dr. Noel R. Juban

A Man’s Legacy through Others: Remembering Dr. Noel R. Juban

May 18, 2022

By Joseph Rem Dela Cruz, UPCM 2024

Kindness without condition. Support unbounded by distance and time. Dr. Noel R. Juban, lovingly known as Boss No to his colleagues and friends, exemplified this unconditional regard for everyone he met — and naturally, this was reciprocated by even the most respected scholars and leaders of today. So much so, that no less than the Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, lamented Dr. Juban’s sudden loss . A large void was left by Dr. Juban in our community since his passing last January 21, 2022. Even today, we still find his jokes and nuggets of wisdom faintly ringing in our minds — all of which he would have loved to share with more people. Perhaps, simply recounting these would not do justice to the memory of Dr Juban. Instead, let us relive Boss No’s life through anecdotes and stories that he loved to share the most.

Narratives from short yet meaningful encounters with Doc Noel stand testament to his legacy in advocating for youth participation in epidemiology and social innovation, paving the way for generations to come.

Dr. Juban had a penchant for conversing with anyone about anything under the sun, from their families to their shared vision for a healthy Philippines. In fact, one would have to schedule an entire afternoon or evening to speak with him. For every laugh he shared with a mentee or newfound acquaintance, he imparted sound advice on career prospects and proper networking. Such was the experience of Leonard Lim, a UPCM student from Class 2024 — one of his many mentees: “Doc Juban introduced me to the field of public health, and it was because of him that I decided that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Even when I wasn’t interning anymore, he would always invite me to help out with his projects… serve as facilitators and note takers at his events, or … encourage to publish manuscripts, join contests, and present abstracts.”

The pivotal role of epidemiology in public health continues to spark several minds. At the 36th Philippine Council for Research and Development, Boss No poses with his mentees in research.

Dr. Juban was also known to have been a beloved adviser to the UP Medical Students for Social Responsibility (UP MSSR) organization. In almost a decade of his tenure, he had nurtured countless ideas to blossom into fruition. Leonard, being one of his mentees, warmly recalls: “Doc Juban is the type of mentor who’d be more proud of you for your achievements than yourself and maybe even your parents. He’s the type of mentor who’d be so excited when your plans turn to reality. Talagang ipagkakalat niya [yung successes mo] to all his colleagues.”

Health Hacks: Synapse, an event by UP MSSR, gathered people from various backgrounds to ideate feasible solutions to community problems. Boss No was in attendance with his students from UP MSSR.

Such was the unwavering support of Doc Juban who — even at the most ungodly hours — stood guard like a doctor on call, ready to answer questions or meet with national and international bodies. These same organizations rallied behind him in his quest to establish the Social Innovations in Health Initiative (SIHI) Philippines Hub within UP Manila — an institutional leader in bringing together stakeholders for research, capacity building, and influence. Dr. Jana Deborah Mier-Alpaño, the current Hub Manager of SIHI-Philippines, fondly reminisces, “Sir Noel has been described to be very friendly and humble. Even colleagues who we only met for a short time in events or conferences, have sent messages saying that this was what stuck with them — that Sir Noel was excellent but friendly and humble. And even for us, while he was our boss, we were not afraid of him; we could discuss freely, and he always listened to our ideas, our thoughts.” More than a boss, he was a friend: “Whenever we have work trips, there would surely be some side trips, because as he would always say, we should be able to enjoy our work, and enjoy the fruits of our labor… We also have funny memories or bloopers with Sir. Especially recently, when all meetings have been online. There was one time in a Zoom meeting, he probably forgot, and turned on his camera, and behold! He was wearing only a sando. Similarly another time, he forgot that his camera and audio were on, and later we heard some funny sounds. Apparently, he was cutting his nails. But these things, we could genuinely laugh about, because of how down to earth Sir Noel was; he laughed at things like these as well.”

SIHI Partners’ Meeting in 2019. Boss No spearheaded the establishment of the SIHI Hub within UP Manila to promote the collaboration of stakeholders for research, capacity building, and influence.

Of all the fond memories one can recall about him, we can certainly distill Dr. Juban’s life into one simple yet profound word: “social”. More than anyone, he knew how to meet people where they are, make them smile, and share their story. Even as a man working with numbers day and night, he never reduced people into mere statistics, always keeping his eye on the social impact of his research. He never counted the minutes he would spend lost in conversation with his mentees and colleagues, as he knew — like a sage — what was truly relevant: the people right before his eyes.

Beyond dealing with research in epidemiology, Doc Juban also served as an advisor to the UP Medical Students for Social Responsibility (UP MSSR). Here he poses with active members and officers.

His legacy stands testament to the indelible impact our relationships and interactions bring. It was through his innate charm in advocating for the importance of youth participation in epidemiology, community involvement in social innovation, and giving back to the nation that continues to steer many into research and advocacy in the Philippines — the two oft-forgotten stars outshined by the glamor of being a clinician and living abroad. It was through this skill in referring incipient leaders to old wisdom that started many of his mentees’ careers in public health. By leveraging this talent in building and fortifying bridges with various organizations, he was able to start the Philippine hub for SIHI and collaborated with many more advocates the world over. Simply put, Pam Pasco, one of his mentees from UPCM 2023, explains: “I am sure he would have wanted us to pursue our passions — to work hard while balancing the different aspects of our lives... He would want us to work while making meaningful friendships and enjoying what we were doing, … [relish] our breakfasts (just like his almusal series) and the conversations we have with each other.”

Surely, the hearts he has touched still mourn to this day. Yet, the shared vision of health equity he has helped build will stand strong like the hallowed yet timeless halls of Rome. If the price of love was grief everlasting, then our community is glad to have paid it in full — and even more — just to have met and served with Boss No in this lifetime. Long may he be remembered.