New Hanover County Health Director David E. Rice is retiring after nearly 19 years of service in that position.
“It’s by God’s grace and mercy that I’ve been able to serve in local public health for almost 40 years,” said Rice, who previously served in similar positions in Nevada and West Virginia. “I think that’s two generations, and it’s time for me to go to my next chapter.”
Rice was hired in November 1997 to run New Hanover County’s Health Department, which boasts the oldest Board of Health in the state (they celebrated their 137th anniversary just this month.) In 2007, he was named North Carolina’s Health Director of the Year.
A veteran of the United States Army, Rice holds two master’s degrees, according to a history of the county’s health department. One is a master’s degree in Community Health Education from West Virginia, and the other is a master’s in Health Policy and Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
During his tenure, Rice oversaw the renovation and expansion of the county’s public health clinic, promoted mobile dental care, built and ran the animal shelter before it was turned over to the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office and administered the transition to smoke-free restaurants and bars, among other accomplishments.
Outside his regular work, Rice has a passion for history, and has done extensive research on Dr. Thomas F. Wood, a Wilmington native who served on the Confederate side in the Civil War and later became North Carolina’s first public health director. Rice also serves as a volunteer guide in Oakdale Cemetery, where he is able to share his knowledge and love of public health history.
Rice will pass the torch to Phillip Tarte, who served as the public health director of Union County, North Carolina for nine years.
“I’m excited to be leaving the legacy intact because of the staff that I have,” Rice said. “Over the last 34 years, we’ve had [only] two health directors, and I’m excited about Phillip Tarte coming to take this organization to the next level.”
Tarte attended the University of North Carolina – Charlotte for his undergraduate years before earning a master’s degree in Healthcare Administration from UNC – Chapel Hill. Overall, he has 21 years of experience in local and state health programs. He also currently serves as the chair of the Union County Transportation Advisory Board and is a former chair and current board member of Hospice of Union County.
“Having interviewed extremely qualified candidates from our applicant pool, I am excited that the New Hanover County Board of Health made a unanimous decision to hire Mr. Tarte,” said the board’s chair, Kim Thrasher Horne, in a release.
Rice’s retirement is effective June 30. Tarte will begin his tenure on July 19.