“He wasn’t letting me feel unimportant.”

“What is a famous person or an important person I met that turned out to not be that great?”

I’ll answer it actually as a famous person or an important person I met that turned out to be that great. I was living in Rhode Island, and it was such a weird way that this happened, but I was in a meeting and somebody was asking me, it was like a external partner, you know, “Who am I?” Kind of a little bit about myself, and it was pretty standard that people might, like, prod about your professional or educational background. So the person asked me, you know, something about what degree do I have. And so I said, “Oh, I have a master’s in public health.” And usually that’s the end of the conversation but this specific person was like, “Oh, like, what specifically did you focus on or what did you study?” And so I said, “Oh, like, global health, uh, infectious disease.” And the person was like, “Oh, have you heard of Paul Farmer?” Who was like my idol and I was like, “Yes, I’ve absolutely heard of Paul Farmer.” And they were like, “Oh, cool. Well, my husband coordinates some sort of speaking engagements at one of the local universities and, like, Paul Farmer’s gonna be there tonight. Do you want to go?” And I was like, “Oh my God. Yes. I absolutely do.” So they gave me instructions, and I don’t know, got me a ticket, which was so generous, and I went, and it was him and then I forget the name of the other person that was there, but he was part of, I think it was a two-person team, that discovered the virus that causes HIV. So they were talking about global health just generally and some of their own personal and professional experiences.  And afterwards, like so many of the students just left. I was like, “Oh my gosh, like why aren’t they trying to talk to Paul Farmer?” So I got in line, and I didn’t have anything to say other than just like – ’cause really, it was reading about Paul Farmer and Mountains Beyond Mountains that got me into public health where I just thought, like, “Yes. This is what I want to be doing.”

So I just wanted to say that to him which I’m sure he hears a lot. And I walked up to him and I was pretty close to the front of the line. So it was still like in the auditorium space and I said, you know, “I just wanted to say I really admire you and I’m glad I got to hear you speak, and, you know, you’re the reason I got into public health.” And then I said, “Okay, like, that’s it, I don’t really have anything more to say,” and I – you know, there was a line behind me, so I was really self-conscious of the fact that I was kind of wasting his time. I didn’t have anything of substance to say other than thank you and he was like, “No, no, no, like, we’re still talking, you know, let’s,” – there was a, kind of a appetizer cocktail hour type thing afterwards and he was like, “Let’s like walk down together and like we can keep chatting.” 

And so it was just a pretty small thing in the grand scheme of it all, but he wasn’t letting me just kind of scurry off and he wasn’t letting me feel unimportant. I didn’t feel like I deserved, you know, much of his time and I knew he had all these other people waiting and – who probably had more important, interesting things to say, and he didn’t let me do that. And I’ll never forget that because he was at such a point, he really sadly passed away not that long ago, unexpectedly, but at that point in his career, I mean, so well known, so accomplished, had every reason to be busy and, you know, checking his phone and distracted and make people feel unimportant by accident. I feel like so often that happens with folks that are just at that point in their career, at the height of their career. But I think it spoke to, like, that’s why he’s so incredible, that’s why he’s so impressive, because he sees the value in every single person.

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