Earlier today, I had the honor to attend, in Kigali, a memorial service for Paul Farmer.
I read Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains in 2014 when I was just getting started with my student leadership journey. At that time, I was unsure about why I got into Pharmacy School, what I’d get out of it, and more broadly, I didn’t have a sense of purpose for my life. But Paul Farmer became a role model since then, and his story pushed me to emulate his moral clarity and seek to live a purpose-driven life. I modeled many of my personal life principles after the character I had read about in the book.
Paul Farmer’s work and life are inspirational in many ways. His view of the world, especially how he thought of building health systems and providing care. He pioneered a social medicine model anchored in a patient accompaniment concept extending care beyond the health facility to the patient’s social environment. Most importantly, he never accepted that lesser care for impoverished patients was inevitable and always pushed himself and those around him to ensure that someone in Butaro had the same privilege and access to quality care as the one in Boston. He revolutionized how we treat tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, Cancer, and other diseases.
His character embodied the Franciscan blessing that I’ve sought to emulate. He was blessed with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so he worked tirelessly for justice and health equity. He was blessed with tears to shed for those who suffered from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so he reached out his hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy. He was blessed with enough foolishness to believe that he could make a difference in this world, and he did what others claimed could not be done.
The only time I met him in person was at the Kigali Airport; he had come to pick up his wife. When I introduced myself and said hi, he acknowledged me as if he had come to meet me. That’s no surprise to anyone who knew him, and he did so for everyone he met, which made him so special and his loss so painful for many.
I hope we all get to emulate his moral clarity to stand on the right side for a just cause.
May the Good Doctor continue to rest in peace.