By Eric Ruble
Rocio Ribero, a research scientist at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, passed away peacefully in her sleep on the morning of April 20, 2022. She was 54 years old.
Born in Bogota, Colombia, Ribero moved through life with a determined, gentle demeanor and drive to solve problems. Her husband of 23 years, Norman Offstein, says Ribero’s devotion to her family, work and church was apparent to everyone who knew her.
The couple met in Bogota in 1997 and married the following year. They raised three children and spent time living in Colombia and Connecticut before landing in Los Angeles in 2005.
Offstein says Ribero will be remembered as someone who was sincere and modest, dedicated to her family, and eager to help. He mentioned that her involvement with the community and schools in Arcadia led the Arcadia High School Parent Teacher Student Association to honor her with the “Very Special Person” award in 2021.
Ribero had a sarcastic sense of humor and enjoyed films such as the Coen brothers’ “Fargo.” Offstein said they laughed together at the outlandish, clever style for which the film is known.
“Although her disease and treatment were debilitating, we continued to find humor in life,” he said. Offstein reminisced that “laughter was an important part of our relationship.”
Ribero joined the Schaeffer Center in 2014 as a member of a team of data scientists, programmers and statisticians who work with faculty on research projects. Over the years, she conducted research in a number of areas that significantly impacted health policy and, ultimately, patients. Her data analysis of the prescription drug system, including work on drug rebates and insulin prices, resulted in a better understanding of why Americans are overpaying for prescription drugs.
“Her sharp insights and hard work broke new ground,” USC Price Dean and Schaeffer Center Co-Director Dana Goldman said. “She will be long remembered among all of us who were fortunate enough to know and work with her.”
Offstein says his wife was drawn to Schaeffer because it provided her with an outlet to exercise her intellect. He says she excelled at research because she enjoyed “trying to create clarity and understanding.”
“She was very cerebral,” he said.
The expertise Ribero shared at Schaeffer came from decades of education at some of the world’s top academic institutions. She earned her B.S. in mathematics from Universidad Javeriana and her M.A. in economics from Universidad de los Andes – both in Bogota. She then received her Ph.D. in economics from New York University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in labor economics at the Economic Growth Center at Yale University. Her research portfolio was extensive and extended to evaluating the economics of divorce, as well as the economic effects of health, poverty and gender inequalities.
Karen Van Nuys, executive director of the Value of Life Sciences Innovation (VLSI) research program at the Schaeffer Center and a research assistant professor at the Price School, worked especially closely with Ribero.
“Rocio exemplified everything that is good about the Schaeffer team we are all a part of. She always improved our research with her thoughtful and organized approach, and she improved our team with her calm and supportive presence,” Van Nuys wrote in a letter sent to the Schaeffer community. “Our work in VLSI was 100 times better because Rocio was a part of it. We will miss her every single day.”
For two years, Ribero received treatment for carcinoid syndrome and advanced neuroendocrine tumors, a rare form of cancer. Before she died, she spent her last days surrounded by her family and close friends.
Ribero is survived by Offstein and their three sons: Dario, a recent USC graduate; Simon, a freshman at The Ohio State University; and Isaac, a sophomore at Arcadia High School.
A memorial will be held on Friday, May 6. For more information, please reach out to Karen Van Nuys at [email protected]