College Columns December 2017 - Page 10

True Public Service

Michael L. Cook, Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP

The author dedicates this review to his late partner, Fellow Lawrence V. Gelber, a devoted member of the College's Pro Bono Committee who greatly admired the books discussed here.

read these powerful books know that we Fellows still have a lot to learn about public service. When we live comfortably and think of the world's misery-laden hell-holes, we often "send money," as Kidder writes. But Paul Farmer in Mountains and Deogratias ("Deo") Niylzonkiza in Strength have devoted their lives, not just their livelihoods, to public service.

Mountains tells the riveting story of Dr. Paul Farmer, founder of Boston-based Partners in Health ("PIH"), which builds medical clinics for poor people around the world. Farmer, brilliant and gifted, was one of six children who grew up in a bus, trailer parks and an occasional boat. His brilliance won him a scholarship to Duke from which he graduated summa cum laude, majoring in anthropology. He later obtained a combined M.D. and Ph.D. degree from Harvard in medical anthropology. But those are mere credentials when compared to his accomplishments [Disclosure: PIH has long been a pro bono client of my law firm.]

Farmer visited Haiti after graduating from college. Its appalling health conditions and lack of effective health care registered deeply. Mortality rates among children and their mothers were staggering. Living in Haiti enabled Farmer to find his life work.

Farmer's fellow Harvard medical students recall his frequent trips to Haiti and his returning for examinations at the last minute. Farmer's combination of medicine, public health and anthropology was just the right prescription for Haiti's suffering poor. He worked long, hard hours, walking huge distances to serve patients, apply for grants and speak to prospective donors.

PIH did attract donors, enabling it to build medical clinics in poor communities around the world, from Haiti to Cuba, South America and Russia. An obsessed, dedicated and ascetic physician, Farmer turned over his MacArthur "Genius" Award to PIH. He also donated his salary as a professor at Harvard Medical School to PIH.

According to Farmer, medicine "is a social science." "Medical education," he says, "does not exist to provide students with a way of making a living, but to insure the health of the community." Kidder shows Farmer fighting poverty full time around the world despite repeated difficulties and failures.

Farmer was not a one-man show. Happily, he inspired others to join his cause, including Ophelia Dahl, daughter of the writer Roald Dahl and movie actress Patricia Neal, who had come to Haiti in 1993 intending to do "good works" at Eye Care Haiti; Tom White, owner of the largest heavy-construction firm in Boston who became a regular major donor to PIH; and Jim Yong Kim, Farmer's Korean American fellow Harvard anthropology and medical student who first served as his "second in command" for eight years and later became a key leader of PIH.

Mountains inspires and disturbs at the same time. It pushes us to do more; but it also challenges our complacency. As Kidder concludes, "I don't idolize [Farmer], but I am grateful that he is living on this planet."

Strength tells the story of Deo, a refugee from the horror of Burundi in 1993. Helped by other humans along the way, Deo was a medical student who escaped to Rwanda first and then to New York City in 1994 during the Rwandan genocide. Twenty years old, Deo was homeless, lived in an abandoned tenement and in Central Park, worked for a local supermarket (Gristedes) for $15 a day, and taught himself English.

A remarkable New Yorker discovered Deo when he delivered her groceries and found him a home with an older New York sociologist and


College Fellows, generally recognized for their public service, should read two important books once a year: Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains (2003) (312 pages) and Strength in What Remains (2009) (277 pages). Those who have