This blog is written by members of staff at the UCL Institute of Health Equity. To find out more about us, visit our website.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Blogging from the University of California, Berkeley

By Felicity Porritt (Head of Communications)


Day five of Michael’s book tour across the US was at University of California, Berkeley. It was an occasion I wanted to witness, in person. Forty years ago Michael’s journey into public health started at Berkeley where he earned his MPH, then his PhD on acculturation and coronary heart disease in Japanese Americans. Forty years ago the University of Sydney, where he studied medicine, suggested Michael asked too many questions about why patients kept coming back for treatment. Forty years since Michael first noticed it was his patients social circumstances that were making them sick.

As Michael waited in the lobby of the David Brower Centre at Berkeley, old faces kept appearing. Like long lost friends there were greetings after greetings. They’d travelled from far and wide from around the San Francisco bay area, and beyond, just to say ‘hello’. The atmosphere was one of a homecoming.

Michael’s former supervisor, the great Professor Len Syme, introduced Michael. The whooping started. The audience could barely contain their excitement. The event was vastly oversubscribed. The lucky 120 clapped and cheered as Len welcomed Michael up to the lectern. Despite jetlag, Michael’s face was the picture of rude health – a huge smile from ear to ear. He clearly felt he’d come home.

Over the last eight years as head of communications at the UCL Institute of Health Equity I've listened with rapt attention to my boss speak, numerous times. But this was different. Michael may have been awake from 3am (he arrived in the US from Taiwan on Monday to two speaking engagements in Seattle, hot footed it east to Chicago for two more talks, then back West for two more) but you’d never have guessed. The passion and energy behind his messaging, as he marched stage right to stage left and back again, was stronger than ever.

The organisers told him ‘five more minutes’, then ‘one more minute’. ‘Oh come on’, exclaimed the orator. Clearly the audience too wanted more. As Michael rapped up his 45-minute lecture, the room erupted. It was a huge privilege to have witnessed this homecoming. But then it continues to be a privilege to work for such a great man who, bit by bit, is changing the world.

As Len Syme whispered to me just before Michael began to speak ‘they say Michael is the most influential person in public health, across the world, you know’. ‘I know’, I whispered back. ‘Then let’s communicate better’ exclaimed the 83 year old, whose guiding supervisory role is clearly as sharp as ever. That was me told!


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