Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Farmer's Eulogy of First PiH Investor Tom White

Paul Farmer gave the eulogy at Tom White’s funeral. Tom was one of the original founders of Partners in Health (PiH) and also its first investor. Farmer and PiH biographer, Tracy Kidder, writes that Tom probably gave away somewhere in the range of 50 million dollars to PiH throughout his lifetime: http://www.pih.org/blog/entry/tom-whites-greatest-gift. I thought Farmer’s reflections on his friend were absolutely compelling. Farmer writes:

How do you measure compassion and goodness? As fond as Tom was of precision, his stock in trade as a builder, he was deeply mistrustful of confident answers to this question. Long before he knew success in business, Tom was asking hard questions about how to live in a world in which it was simply not possible to be free of anxiety. For someone who loved numbers and worked closely with engineers to build sturdy bridges and tunnels and buildings, he was always the first to admit there was no unfailing algebra of decency, no geometry of the heart or calculus of compassion. If I may paraphrase Tom’s son Peter, Tom’s determination to realize eudaimonia- human flourishing- had inspired all those gathered, as I noted in my eulogy:

Tom knew his math but also taught many of us (to borrow form Ephesians) that we sometimes see best with the eyes of the heart. He did not, in his charitable work, take short cuts or avoid the hard process of discernment. Tom knew that everyone in this world can and does suffer, but he also knew that some suffer more than others and that many suffer injustice.

Tom’s generosity did not require proximity. His imagination, and the eyes of his heart, allowed him to understand suffering unlike any he had seen, even in the theatre of war. That’s why his generosity was legendary not just in his hometown but around the world. I hope I might be forgiven for mentioning his work in international health, since that’s what we did together for almost thirty years. It was something of a lost cause until Tom lent us his time and backing. Since Tom’s death, Partners in Health, which Tom founded and funded, has received messages of sympathy and support from Peru, Rwanda, Lesotho, Russia, and especially, from Haiti. Allow me to indulge in what Tom would term running the numbers: by our count, the organization he founded has built or refurbished some sixty hospitals and clinics, scores of schools and community centers, and employs, in over a dozen countries, more than thirteen thousand people. As Jim Kim noted in speaking to the Boston Globe, Tom’s early investments in taking on the care of people living in poverty and with chronic disease led directly to major changes in the way global health is delivered, saving millions of lives already and promising to save millions more.

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