One of my greatest regrets in life is that I never got to meet Paul Farmer. The closest I came was in 2015, when Grinnell College, my alma mater in Iowa, invited me to participate in a symposium on global health at which Farmer was to be the keynote speaker. Unfortunately, my presentation was scheduled a week before Farmer’s, and as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t wait for a week among the cornfields to see him.
A physician and anthropologist who co-founded the global health and social justice organization Partners in Health, or PIH, Farmer died unexpectedly on Feb. 21 in Butaro, Rwanda. He was there at the University of Global Health Equity—a hospital and university he co-founded to put PIH’s ideas about developing a generation of health leaders who could build and sustain equitable health systems around the world into practice.
In the weeks since his death, tributes and testimonials have poured forth attesting to the direct impact that Farmer’s life and work had. Former President Bill Clinton called Farmer “one of the most extraordinary people I have ever known.” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, mourned the passing of an “outstanding global health champion.” Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, praised Farmer as “indefatigable, mischievous, generous, [and] brilliant.”