Thomas J. White is not someone that I know. More than likely he is not someone that you know or, unless you are familiar with the history of Partners in Health, someone who’s name you’ve even heard. I only know of Tom through reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. This book chronicles the beginning of the work of Partners in Health, a non profit devoted to creating a “preferential option for the poor” by providing quality healthcare to everyone, regardless of ability to pay, socioeconomic status or even geographical location. Tom is the guy who funded PIH for years starting when they were just the dream of a few idealistic young people to bring affordable, quality health care to Haiti, to present day when PIH has become a world renowned organization with a presence in countries such as Rwanda, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Peru.
This is not an ad for Partners in Health. This is just me, a 20 something-year-old public health student who admires the work this organization has done and the good they have achieved around the world. Good that might never have been achieved without Tom. Proverbs* tells us to stand up for the poor, to seek justice for them in court, Psalms** reminds us to care for the widows and the orphans, for those who cannot do for themselves. I get that not everybody has the same value basis as me. I don’t expect you to or hold you, whoever you are, to the same beliefs that I hold myself to. Let me appeal to your basic sense of humanity then and simply say that as humans each and everyone of us has the right to live. We are born and we die citizens of this world and a part of the greater universe that is humanity. With that right to life comes a right to health, a right to live healthy, productive lives as members of society. How then can we look into the eyes of the poor, impoverished and sick and deny them the basic right that we ourselves cherish? I know that I can’t. Tom couldn’t, that’s why he put his money where his heart was and started to make a difference.
Partners in Health is having their 18th annual Thomas J. White symposium September 24 to talk about the importance of global health and social justice and the partnerships that support them. You can register to watch it live at this link.
Thomas J. White is no longer with us. He passed away this past January, but when you look at his unintentional legacy, at all of the good that he has done, the countless lives that he helped save by his generosity, he has created a testimony and a story far greater than anyone could have imagined. I didn’t realize that Tom had died until I was registering to watch the Symposium. The link about Tom mentioned that he had passed in January 2011 months after I read Mountains Beyond Mountains. I read Paul Farmer’s eulogy for Tom in tears. Here was a man that I felt like I knew, even if I just met him in a book. A quiet, generous man who wanted to make a difference and did so. I hope one day I can be like him.
In the words of PIH: From Partners In Health’s founding in the early 1980s, co-founder and partner Thomas J. White enabled the organization to do “whatever it takes” to make our patients well. It is difficult to measure the impact of this commitment—millions of lives have been saved around the world because of it. Whether financing the construction of a small clinic in Cange or investing in the expensive drug regimens of PIH’s first multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) patients, Tom’s investment in service to the destitute sick and his vision of what could be have changed global health delivery forever.
~Have Coffee Will Travel