One memorable man’s death we should honor
To the Editor:
Gene Wilder, a Milwaukee native, died recently. His death received considerable coverage on TV, major newspapers, magazines and the internet. He was a funny guy, described in his obituaries as a comedic genius. His movies included “Young Frankenstein” and “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.”
Dr. Donald Henderson also recently passed away. Henderson was born in 1928 in Lakewood, Ohio, the son of a Union Carbide engineer and a nurse. He graduated from Oberlin College and received his medical degree from the University of Rochester. His obituary appeared in section “D” of the New York Times Aug. 22, 2016, edition.
I bet you heard of Gene Wilder, but I am afraid you will ask: “WHO was Dr. Henderson?” I had never heard of him either. Dr. Donald A. Henderson was the leader of one of mankind’s greatest public health triumphs, the eradication of smallpox …
Smallpox has been blamed for at least 300 million deaths. Yes, 300,000,000 men, women and children, almost the present population of the United States.
Quotes from the Times article:
“Dr. Henderson was considered a field marshal whose combination of vision, bluntness, tenacity and political acumen carried the campaign to victory.”
“It (smallpox) carried off many European monarchs and buried the lines of succession to thrones from England to China. Because it killed 80 percent of the American Indians who caught it; it was a major factor in the European conquest of the New World.”
“In 1966, he (Dr. Henderson) was sent to Geneva to run the World Health Organization’s global campaign. The sense at the W.H.O. was that this was an impossible mission so they chose a young man who didn’t have a reputation to tarnish … I don’t want to say as cannon fodder, but something like that.”
Under Dr. Henderson’s leadership, smallpox was eliminated around 1977, an astonishingly short time.
Now this baffles me: why had I never heard of Henderson, why did his death receive so little notice and Wilder’s so much? All credit to Wilder. He made us laugh, which is special and admirable, but being the leader in the elimination of smallpox is infinitely more significant.
Why was death not “front page” news? Why was his casket not placed the Nation’s Capitol for 24 hours? Why were flags not flown at half-staff? I’m baffled.