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Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Paul Farmer needs support on return to Brooksville

Even I thought I might be blowing smoke last year when I wrote that Dr. Paul Farmer could someday win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Turns out, he'd already been nominated.

"Dr. Farmer is a champion of global health justice whose work and inspiration have made a tremendous mark on humankind,'' U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., wrote in a 2007 letter to Nobel judges.

Farmer's friends in Brooksville, who just found out about this confidential (and still valid) nomination last week, take it as one more sign that the world is realizing what a lot of them knew when Farmer was kid at Hernando High: He's a genius.

In just the past two months, Farmer, who is famous for bringing first-class medical care to poor countries, has been named to board of trustees at Duke University and as chairman of Harvard University's Department of Global Health and Social Medicine.

Of course, he'll have to take a sabbatical from that job if President Barack Obama appoints him to help direct U.S. foreign aid for the State Department. Farmer's still a leading candidate for that position, said Tricia Bechtelheimer, owner of Westover's Flowers & Gifts, who keeps up with news of Farmer on the Web like a day trader watching stock prices.

All this recognition makes it clearer than ever that Farmer deserves the support of his hometown. And Bechtelheimer is helping to organize a fundraiser at the Hernando Beach Club scheduled for July 19, when Farmer and his family plan to visit Weeki Wachee. To inquire about tickets and details, you can call her at (352) 796-3519.

This will be a less formal version of the event held when Farmer was named 2008 Great Brooksvillian, and a lot of the same people are involved, including lawyer Bill Eppley, finance professionals Ron and Jennifer Wheeles and environmental consultant George Foster.

And, strange as it seems for this newspaper to write favorably about Wal-Mart twice in one week, the company that is helping Brooksville kick off a curbside recycling program is one of the fundraiser's major contributors.

Still, when I went to the organizational meeting Wednesday night, I was struck by who wasn't there.

Brooksville Regional Hospital is a corporate sponsor, but few individual doctors responded to invitations to either December's event or this one, Bechtelheimer said.

Likewise, she received few replies to her handwritten letters and e-mails to some of the county's most prominent business leaders. Probably, she said, some conservatives don't approve of Farmer's advocacy for the poor in foreign countries: "I think politics is playing a big role.''

Of course, it's never fair to judge the charity of others. Especially in these times, you never know how much money people have and how much they've already given away.

But if anyone's mission transcends politics, it's Farmer's, said Eppley, who was inspired to help Bechtelheimer by reading a book about Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder.

"I could not put it down,'' Eppley said. "If you look at true Christian principles, the object is to help the poorest of the poor, the very neediest, and that's what Paul has done on a scale that has really made a difference.''

The rest of the world recognizes this. So should we.

Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Paul Farmer needs support on return to Brooksville 07/02/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 2, 2009 6:29pm]
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