On March 10, 2010, PIH celebrated the 90th birthday of PIH’s co-founder and partner, Thomas J. White. For many years, Tom has enabled PIH to do “whatever it takes” to make our patients well. 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 has changed global health delivery forever.
PIH’s facility in Cange has grown from a one room clinic to a fully functional hospital with inpatient, outpatient, surgical, and specialized care available to patients regardless of their ability to pay. It is a symbol of hope for the poor throughout Haiti. Similarly, MDR-TB is no longer a death sentence in resource poor settings—that initial cohort of Peruvian patients treated with Tom’s investment helped us prove that the disease could be cured, which in turn helped to change global policy.
To understand Tom’s passion, motivation, and drive to help the poor throughout his life, it is best to read his own words. In an autobiography, he writes:
I think it’s important for us to live in an inclusive world. Excluding people for this reason or that is, in most cases, grossly unfair. I also think that that the myth of the self-made man is exactly that, a myth. All of us are born under many conditions over which we had no control or no vote, i.e. where and when we were born, whether we were male or female, the color of our skin, our ethnicity, and our religion.
... In speeches that I have had to give in the last three or four years when I was the honoree of certain organizations at their annual dinner, I have always tried to emphasize the following message: - three things – 1) Don’t be apathetic – be involved, 2) Live your life, at least in part, for other people, 3) Realize that there is an urgency to your giving, especially if you are giving to the poor.
At this milestone in Tom’s life, we take pause to recognize the importance his ongoing support of PIH and of all the suffering people and communities around the world. We honor Tom, sharing with you the words and reflections of his closest partners in these efforts—the other four PIH co-founders:
Now we face our greatest challenge, ever, in Haiti—our house, laid in ruins. But thinking about Tom and his light, which will never be extinguished (because a light so displayed cannot be extinguished), allows us to move forward with conviction and some experience. This, then, is our birthday present to him: all of those whose work Tom has supported will pull together to amplify that light and shine it on those in the greatest need.
The countless people whose lives have been transformed by Tom’s heart and soul are a testament to his nine decades on this earth. Everywhere I go I meet people whose eyes light up when his name is mentioned because of his conviction that everyone deserves to have a shot at a decent life.
My mother has always said that the only true saint she has ever met is Thomas J. White. As a trained theologian, I'm convinced that my mother knows what she's talking about. Tom is the only person I know who, even without witnessing the suffering of the poor every day, truly ‘suffers with’ them every moment of his life. Tom has been a huge moral presence in my life and is ever present in my consciousness through his namesake, my older son Thomas J. Kim.”
-Jim Yong Kim
Tom has done so much to help so many people, and I count myself as lucky to be one of them.
We invite you to share with us how Thomas J. White—his philosophy and action—has inspired you to make a difference in the world. Please visit http://act.pih.org/tj-white-inspired.