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Commentary: A Friendship That Moves Mountains


first_imgMarck 4, 2019, By John KrullTheStatehouseFile.com INDIANAPOLIS – Paul Farmer and Todd McCormack don’t need much encouragement to start teasing each other.They have been doing it for decades.John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.comThey started long before Farmer was a world-famous infectious disease doctor, Harvard University professor and subject of an award-winning book, Tracy Kidder’s “Mountains Beyond Mountains.” And long before McCormack was one of the driving forces behind sports programming powerhouse IMG.It began even before they became co-founders of Partners in Health, a $170 million-a-year organization that brings medical care to some of the poorest and most endangered places on earth.No, their pattern of joshing each other began 40 years ago, when they were freshmen at Duke University. They met when they moved into their dorm. They began a friendship that has saved lives around the globe.They take their work more seriously than they do their role in it.When I ask them, before an audience of students and community members at Franklin College, what drew them together, McCormack offers up a joke.Maybe it had something to do with the fact, he says, “that we both were dumped by our girlfriends on the same day” and needed to commiserate together.After the laughter dies down, Farmer and McCormack dive deeper. They say theirs began as a friendship of ideas. They traded books and arguments back and forth in a near-frenzy. They both had a passion for social justice.The moment, though, that they acknowledge a great seriousness of purpose, they revert to school-boy teasing again. Farmer reminds McCormack that he got the better grade in calculus. McCormack tweaks Farmer about picking up his dry cleaning.In many ways, theirs was an unlikely pairing.Farmer lived a large part of his childhood in a salvaged tuberculosis testing bus with his parents and five siblings. His father worked as a teacher, his mother as a cashier at a grocery store. They parked the bus in a trailer park in rural Florida.McCormack is a self-identified “rich kid from Cleveland.” When he was young, his family summered in Scotland, where he, a competitive golfer, played some of the finest courses in the world.The differences in their upbringing became source material for their teasing, but not an obstacle to their friendship.When Farmer found both great need and his life’s work in alleviating suffering and poverty in Haiti, he asked McCormack to help.They were young, not long out of college. With two other friends their age or younger and older Boston philanthropist Tom White, they founded Partners in Health.Out of that youthful initiative has grown an enterprise that has built hospitals, provided essential medical care and strengthened health-care systems in Haiti, in Peru, in Rwanda and elsewhere.They complemented each other. Farmer, in addition to being one of the finest medical minds of his generation, had a visionary’s gift for identifying need and determining hands-on ways to meet it. McCormack had a keen understanding of organization and finance.They understood each other.They trusted each other.When they set aside the joking, their reverence for each other is clear. McCormack speaks of Farmer’s “vision” and “commitment” in hushed tones. Farmer describes McCormack as “chivalrous.”To call them friends, Farmer continues, is misleading.“More like brothers,” he says.As they talk, I can’t help but think about the audacity of their lives.When they were young – so young – they set out to save lives and maybe even save the world. They both say that they and Partners in Health haven’t done enough, but the truth is that thousands – maybe even tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands – of people are alive today who wouldn’t have been if not for their efforts.What drives them?Faith.Much of that faith is religious, but much of it also is based in human beings’ ability to honor their best instincts.There’s a quote on the Partners in Health website. It’s from Margaret Mead, and it reads:“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has!”That was true 40 years ago when two college freshmen became friends.And, those friends say, it’s still true today.John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.FacebookTwitterCopy LinkEmailSharelast_img read more