It was just a few short years ago that we celebrated the Centennial of my Dad’s birth. That was in 2013 and it is now a little over 50 years since my Dad died at his desk just before being sworn in as a Member of Congress for his 14th term. A lot has happened since then.
My father was born on March 23, 1913, the third of six children. He grew up in a town called Harmony in the northern part of Rhode Island. He had planned to enroll at the College of the Holy Cross, but the Great Depression changed that. Rather, he joined his older brother and father in bricklaying, a profession that prepared him very well for the arduous work that awaited him in the U.S. House of Representatives. He went from being the president of the local Bricklayer’s Union, No. 1 in 1939 to being elected to represent the Second District of Rhode Island in 1940.
“… just like Paul of Tarsus was suddenly transformed on the road to Damascus, John Fogarty was transformed on the road to Bethesda…John believed that one ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure; in other words 1 billion for medical research might save 16 billion in medical care.”
“As we limit the span of uncertainty in the cause of death and illness and extend and enrich the span of life, we act in the highest ideal of government in the service of the governed, and in the best tradition of public, private, and individual enterprise.”
I think it is safe to say that we all know someone who has benefited from the work that my father and his Congressional colleagues did to further medical research and to build the premier national biomedical research facility—the National Institutes of Health (NIH). During his 26 years in Congress he expanded funding for the NIH from $28.5 million in 1949 to $1.1 billion at the time of his death in 1967 at the age of 53. It is very important to note that my father did not do this alone. My Dad had the good fortune to have his dear friend Mel Laird from Wisconsin as his Ranking Minority Member. Together, they shaped public health policy and routinely increased funding for medical research, often beyond what their Presidents and fellow lawmakers thought was sufficient. According to my Dad, “There are no politics in this committee because these departments affect every human being in our country.” And on the Senate side they had Lister Hill of Alabama, who along with my Dad sponsored the Hill-Fogarty “Health for Peace” bill, opening up further opportunities for the support of research and training on an international basis.
“I have always recognized…that just as disease knows no national boundaries so also the benefits of medical research and indeed research itself can know no boundaries. Time and time again, it has been demonstrated that the goal of better health has the capacity to demolish geographic and political boundaries and to enter the hearts and minds of men, women, and children in the four corners of the earth.”
It was difficult to believe that in 1962 my Dad was talking about a world that had shriveled in size, with the most distant places only hours apart. My father, indeed, had a prescient vision of how important global health was and would be. As far as global health is concerned, the genie is out of the bottle; the world is smaller today and continues to shrink. Global health has never been more vital than it is today and its importance will only increase. The NIH, the preeminent medical research facility in the world, must have a substantial organization dedicated to global health. This is the Fogarty International Center, which supports basic, clinical, and applied research and training for U.S. and foreign investigators working in the developing world. The Center serves as a bridge between the NIH and the greater global health community. Since its establishment in 1968 through legislation introduced by Melvin Laird right after my Dad’s death, nearly 6,000 scientists worldwide have received significant research training through Fogarty programs that benefit people here at home and around the world.
“I think that this matter of expanding research is one – perhaps the one – truly global effort in which all nations can and will join as real partners.”
I recently had the good fortune to meet with Representative Tom Cole (R, OK), the Chairman of my father’s subcommittee, and found him to have the same philosophy and concern for global health as my father. Chairman Cole would rather “fight Ebola in West Africa than in West Dallas” – so would my Dad.