Memorial for "a man of action"
Dr LEE Jong-wook, 1945 - 2006
Director-General of the World Health Organization
24 MAY 2006 | GENEVA - More than 1000 people packed into the Basilique Notre-Dame today in Geneva to attend the funeral of Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of the World Health Organization.
His family, his friends and colleagues filled every seat in the church, and stood in the aisles and in the doorways to take part in the funeral mass, and to hear tributes to his work and to his life.
Dr Lee was a "man of action", whose adventurous spirit led him to "experience more, see more, and do more," said his son Tadahiro. "This spirit made him great at work, and great at life." Tadahiro said his father gave 100 per cent of his attention to each one of the people he cared about, and to the issues he was passionate about.
People attending the funeral heard about Dr Lee's passion for his work, and for literature, sports and nature. They also heard about the quiet ways he took care of people. "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," said Dr Bill Kean, the head of Dr Lee's office.
Dr Lee became Director-General of the World Health Organization on 21 July, 2003. Before that, he had worked for more than 20 years for the Organization, first battling leprosy in the South Pacific islands, then tackling vaccine preventable diseases including polio. At WHO Headquarters in Geneva, he pioneered new ways for people to gain access to tuberculosis medicines.
"Dr Lee's work defined and exemplified the very best of WHO," said Rhyu Si-min, Minister of Health and Welfare of the Republic of Korea, who spoke on behalf of the international health community. "He wanted change to take place on the ground. He travelled great distances, to more than 60 countries in three years. And he would never hesitate to travel the distance across the floor to take the hand of a child who was sick. His work has touched millions, and has made their lives better."
Staff at WHO also remember Dr Lee for his direct interest in their work. It was common for him to drop by someone's office to find out what they were doing, or to call WHO representatives in country offices and ask them how things were going.
"He was never off duty. His agile mind was constantly turning over situations, plans and ideas. He never stopped thinking," said Dr Kean.
The tributes today echoed the hundreds which have been sent in around the world including from ordinary people, ministers, non-governmental organizations, and heads of state.
The Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mark Malloch Brown, attended to represent the Secretary-General. Other heads of UN agencies present included Ann Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF, Dr Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, and Juan Somavia, Director-General of the ILO. Many more representatives from governments and UN agencies also attended.
The mass was presided over by Monsignor Silvano Tomasi, the Papal Nuncio in Geneva.
Dr Lee died on Monday, 22 May, following a short illness. He was 61 years old. He is survived by his wife and son, two brothers, a sister and their families.
Dr Lee's widow has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Dr Lee should be given to the project where she works, Socios En Salud in Lima, Peru. Donations can be given via the sister organization of Socios En Salud, Partners In Health www.pih.org
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