A chance to be in the history books
“I have had a wonderful life, beyond what I ever could have imagined,” says Bob Dickerson, who has survived 15 years of cancer. Photo: Rebecca Sullivan.
Bob Dickerson passed away at the end of May 2015. He is fondly remembered by the many colleagues and friends whose lives he touched and whose work he inspired. We continue to carry his work forward with the urgency and commitment that he modeled for us.
If he’d been living in a poorer country—one of the many he has worked so hard to help—Bob Dickerson is sure he “would have been a goner” back in 1999. That was when he was diagnosed with a slow growing and difficult-to-diagnose cancer. He lived, thanks to surgery that removed three tumors. Carcinoid syndrome is incurable, however, and his doctors gave him 1 to 20 years to live.
“I chose to assume what they said was true,” he says. “I quit my job. I wanted to have death without regrets.”
Since then, Bob has become one of Washington State’s—and perhaps the country’s—most committed advocates for ending global poverty. Ever aware of death nipping at his heels, he has met with members of Congress and global leaders hundreds of times, pressing them to increase funding to prevent the deaths of children; address HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria; and ensure that everyone has access to education and opportunity.
Washington State Congressman Adam Smith even recognized Bob on the House floor, saying, “His passionate and ever present voice for the powerless—especially children—is truly remarkable.”
Bob has done this full-time as the volunteer leader of the Seattle chapter of RESULTS, an advocacy organization that helps to raise political will and funding for anti-poverty programs, including those that tackle global health.
Devoted to the end
Ending poverty, Bob says, calls for the triad of government with its resources and influence, advocacy groups like RESULTS that raise awareness and apply pressure, and “successful organizations like PATH that can get smart interventions and best practices to the people who need them.”
Not surprisingly, he learned about PATH during a meeting with a congressional office. One of PATH’s disease experts was there, and Bob was impressed by his knowledge.
“After that, PATH was always on my radar,” he remembers. “As time went on, it became obvious that PATH was a lot more than just any other group.” He was impressed by “commonsense, yet brilliant ideas” like the vaccine vial monitor (a sticker that flags heat-damaged vaccines) and the many ways PATH is helping to protect children, from vaccines to malaria prevention.
Bob was soon a regular at PATH events—from the Breakfast for Global Health fundraisers to our World Malaria Day symposiums. “I always learn something at PATH events. They’re an incredible opportunity to meet people who have an interest in making a difference for a lifetime,” he says with characteristic enthusiasm. “We’re talking about being devoted to working on these issues until we resolve them.”
He’s also a supporter of the Catalyst Fund, which provides critical unrestricted support. “Unrestricted funding has the potential to radically expand PATH’s work. I’m sure not every idea is a big success, but I’m also sure that if it wasn’t for that money, success would come more slowly and have much less impact.”
The class that never gives up
Sixteen years after his diagnosis, Bob has reached what he calls “the end of my last chapter.” He needs at least 15 hours of sleep each day, but still communicates with members of Congress and cajoles and encourages others to take action for the lives of children.
“I am in the class that never wants to give up,” he says. “Because life for me is easy. I don’t have the right to give up when there are children and poor people dying and suffering needlessly.”
So this is what death without regrets can look like: in the time that Bob has dedicated his life to this work, child deaths have dropped by more than half, and the end of preventable child deaths is now a realistic goal.
“We look back at Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Jonas Salk, or the other people we read about in history books who made such a difference for people who were suffering. We have a chance to be there with them,” says Bob. “And if a group of us makes a difference—that’s history-making. To me, it’s one of those opportunities you just can’t pass up.”