Director-General

Eulogies delivered at Dr Lee's funeral

Below are the eulogies delivered on behalf of family, colleagues and friends, and the international health community, at the funeral service for Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of WHO. The service took place at the Basilique Notre-Dame in Geneva, Switzerland on 24 May, 2006.


Dr Bill Kean, on behalf of colleagues and friends

I am deeply privileged to be here, to speak about my friend, JW.

This was a man who combined extraordinary intelligence with personal integrity. He liked literature but hated adjectives, especially applied to himself. He liked just the plain facts. He was a man of many actions and few words. Rather than saying something, he would do it. He expected the same of everybody else.

Those of us who have worked with, or for JW, know that he had an apparently effortless way of getting people to do things - and to do them well. Many times better perhaps, than they had the confidence to expect of themselves.

Late one evening he came into the office, and handed some materials over to Ian Smith to summarize by the next morning. Ian, of course, like us all, said yes. "Now you know how the Organization works" JW said to a secretary. "Yes", she joked "the higher you go the less work you do". The joke was, that for him, the opposite was true. As DG - or at any time - he was never off duty. His agile mind was constantly turning over situations, plans and ideas. He never stopped thinking.

He was amazingly determined. Anyone who has tried to change his mind on something, will know what I mean. Once he had decided, he would go for it with daunting willpower. I worked as Director of his office for just seven weeks. It seemed a lot longer - but in that time I saw again his courage and determination. I remembered that my first impression of him had been "do not underestimate this man".

JW never fitted into any kind of stereotype. He was a truly original person. And full of surprises. One aspect of this was how widely he read.

Dr LEE Jong-wook
WHO/K. Bernard
Dr Lee reading Shakespeare to staff. He never forgot how to relax and laugh.

Just recently, he came into work carrying a huge leather- bound folio of Shakespeare's Macbeth. He said that he had been re-reading this recently, and he was going to read us some of it. Which he did. He made us all laugh. He often made us laugh.

I don't know about you, but I don't often just pick up Shakespeare. But he did. And remembered it. Another of the amazing things about JW was his extraordinarily retentive memory.

He was curious about all sorts of things. And he encouraged others to be curious and to confront preconceptions. I remember traveling with him on a polio campaign in rural China: the people he talked to came away with their ideas challenged but new solutions to consider.

I think he thought of himself as a man with just a few friends. I think he would have been quite amazed to know how many people, all over the world, counted themselves as his friends. He would have been astonished to register the level of feeling among the many staff - maybe a thousand - who crammed into every space in the Executive Board room at WHO on Monday, to listen to the Vienna Philharmonic, and pay tribute to him. The hundreds who are queuing every day to write tributes in the books. The heartfelt tributes of so many during the Health Assembly. All of you who are here today.

WHO/Peter Williams
Dr Bill Kean

He liked to surprise people. Many WHO Representatives have had the shock of their lives when the phone rang and it was the DG on the line - just calling to see how things were…Or he would just drop into an office, or a meeting, and ask that person what they were doing. One of the last things he did was, on Friday night, to rush out and buy a take-away Chinese meal for two staff who were working late on Assembly preparations.

He was a man of unusual humility and modesty, for example, a great defender and use of public transport. He did, however, have a strong competitive streak and liked to arrive at the foot of the ski slopes first. Those who have skied with him will share the memory of JW, charging off down the hill at top speed. He might have got himself lost a few times - on the ski slopes and off them - but he wasn't afraid to tackle the Grands Montets on his own.

We used to play tennis together in Manila, at the Diplomat's Club - famous for its matches of undiplomatic ferocity. JW shrewdly assessed me as someone unexpectedly nimble on the court, and asked me to be his partner. That was nice. But then he went and challenged all the Ambassadors. And we didn't do too badly.

After a close friend's wife recently had a near fatal incident, he talked often about how important it was not to put anything off. I don't think he did. I think he lived his life intensely. He took rich pleasure in his friends' conversation, in his music, and his reading, in good food and wine, in pushing the boundaries physically on his bicycle or on his skis, in doing his utmost in whatever he did, whether in his personal, or in his public life. He was doing that right up to when his life ended. His last words were, characteristically, on malaria treatment.

He died too soon.

This great man had so much more to give. But if we could achieve any part of what he had accomplished - if we could influence and shape the world only a fraction as much as he did, this world would be a far better place. I will follow JW now, and quote from Hamlet, a play that he saw in London in 2004, just after he had invited Prince Charles to speak at the World Health Assembly yesterday:

"He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again."

JW - we will miss you.

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