Alan is the Dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. During his twenty years of leadership of the school, its budget grew from $12 million to $161 million. He has been a leader in the sexual and reproductive rights field (Allan is credited with helping created the contraceptive revolution in Thailand and introduced the idea of over-the-counter distribution of oral contraceptives), HIV/AIDS, and Maternal and Child Health field. He has worked tirelessly around the world for the rights of women.
Over 800 people attended last night's dinner. There were tributes by Hillary Clinton, Richard Gere, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. There were presidents and executive directors of hospitals, foundations, leading non-governmental organizations, and even a Princess there to honor him. It was a reunion of sorts for many of us in the sexual and reproductive health field.
However, I don't think people came to honor Allan's myriad accomplishments. Rather, they came to honor his life. Every person I spoke with had a story about how Allan had been there for them, how he had taken the time to talk with them at a difficult point in their life, how he had mentored them, taught them, inspired them. I think every one of the 800 people had a story about how Allan had made a difference in their professional and personal life. As much as anything, we wanted to be there to celebrate his humanity. I was moved to tears many times during the evening.
Allan is retiring only because a medical condition is forcing him to leave the work and the people he loves. Allan, I salute you for all you have done, but more because you model how we all should live. These words from Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing ran through my mind last night. I think they describe you perfectly. I hope they will comfort you. Thank you for being our symphony.
“To seek elegance rather than luxury and refinement rather than fashion;
To be worthy, not respectable…and wealthy, not rich.
To study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly.
To listen to stars and birds; to babes and sages, with open heart.
To bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never.
To let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.”