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Column: Honoring Dr. Farmer in Brooksville is for all of us

The way I see it, Julia Jinkens just wants to save the city of Brooksville from embarrassment.

Because how would it look if Dr. Paul Farmer gets snubbed for Brooksvillian of the Year and goes on to win a Nobel Prize?

Farmer, in case you don't know, is a Hernando High graduate who has revolutionized health care for the world's poor by insisting they deserve the same level of treatment as the rich.

The organization he co-founded 21 years ago, Partners in Health, has been featured by the New York Times. He was the subject of a CBS 60 Minutes this year and, in 2003, an acclaimed book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder, Mountain beyond Mountains, the subtitle of which sums him up just about perfectly:

"The quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, the man who would cure the world.''

And, yes, even though Farmer has said he has little chance of (or interest in) winning a Nobel in medicine, authorities on global health care disagree.

Not to belittle past winners of our local award, but to me it's pretty clear that Farmer should not only be Brooksvillian of the year, but of the century, and, if it happens that the town is still around by then, of the millennium.

Jinkens, mother of the owners of the Red Mule Pub and, some say, of the whole city, nominated Farmer last year, when he lost out to Arthur St. Clair, an African-American minister and Reconstruction-era county commissioner.

This year, Farmer's candidacy has already hit a snag. When Jinkens went to City Hall to resubmit his name last week, City Clerk Karen Phillips told her the contest's rules require winners to have lived in the city. Farmer was raised with five brothers and sisters on a converted school bus in a campground just north of town and on a boat docked at what is now Jenkins Creek Park.

Jinkens is now worried that if she nominates Farmer, she will break the rules.

I think she should go ahead and submit his name. I also think the City Council should overlook the residency requirement.

It has done so for three winners in the past, including St. Clair. Farmer qualifies as a Brooksvillian because he was the president of his high school class ('78), held several part-time jobs in the city, and — never especially eager to return to the bus or boat — spent as much time as possible with friends in town.

As to why he should be the Brooksvillian, just listen to Jinkens:

"Coming from his humble background to go on and do what he did, I'm just so proud of him. Could it be any better than that, to find out that he went on to become a humanitarian?''

No, it could not be any better, and the city would recognize that by giving him the award.

This is usually seen as an individual accolade. Competition for it has become more intense since it was first awarded, in 2002, to banker Alfred McKethan.

But Farmer doesn't need it. And, considering the lives that would be lost if he leaves his work, we shouldn't expect him to claim it when it is awarded in October.

So what? This is for us, not him. It's so our children know what kind of life we value most.

And so, in case he does get that Nobel, we don't look like provincial idiots. Or, even worse, feel like idiots.

Column: Honoring Dr. Farmer in Brooksville is for all of us 06/28/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 30, 2008 4:46pm]
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