Editor’s note: William Foege is a global health hero. Everyone from Bill Gates to Barack Obama says so. But what many may not know is that Foege is a prankster as well, and that mischief is a key to his success.
Disclosure: Bill Foege and I both graduated from Pacific Lutheran University, though separated by a few decades. Bill serves on the Humanosphere board and I consider him a good friend. That said, I’m tired of all this hero talk. I want people to know the mischievous side.
I wrote this article Prankster for Positive Disruption for PLU’s new magazine Resolute and am re-posting it here. Go take a look at the link to see more photos and info.
It may sound like a stretch, but the eradication of smallpox is directly connected to a young man slipping chewed-up rubber bands into his boss’ pipe tobacco.
That young man was Bill Foege ’57, the somewhat mischievous son of a Lutheran minister who pastored the Northeastern Washington community of Colville.
The world today knows Dr. William Foege, now 78, as the person who came up with the strategy—“ring containment,” modeled on what he learned fighting forest fires in the Pacific Northwest—that led to the eradication of smallpox in the late 1970s: the only human disease ever completely wiped off the planet. Read his book House on Fire for the full story. That episode alone makes Foege a public-health hero.