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In memory of Gordon Perkin

August 23, 2020 by PATH

We mourn the loss of PATH’s co-founder and first president. Gordon led a paradigm shift in global health, and his absence will be felt around the world.

PATH cofounders Rich Mahoney (left), Gordon Perkin (center), and Gordon Duncan (right).

PATH cofounders Rich Mahoney (left), Gordon Perkin (center), and Gordon Duncan (right). Photo: PATH

Gordon Perkin, MD, dedicated his life to the pursuit of health equity. At a time when global public health was focused on disaster response and relief, he challenged the sector to grow in two key ways.

Dr. Perkin rejected the idea any one health solution should or could work for everyone, and he championed the use of innovation and scientific rigor to create “appropriate” health interventions for each challenge and context.

In 1977, along with co-founders Gordon Duncan and Rich Mahoney, Dr. Perkin launched a new venture—PATH (then called PIACT)—that would embody these steps. As Duncan described it, Dr. Perkin had the “beautiful idea” that lasting solutions to systemic health challenges required “all the sectors [public, private, and civil] to work together.”

His vision shaped PATH’s role as an “honest broker” and trusted partner to countries and communities around the world.

Dr. Perkin was PATH’s president from 1980 to 1999, leading the organization toward some of its most iconic achievements: a vaccine vial monitor that prevented billions of dollars of waste; the first vaccine to be effective against Africa’s devastating meningitis epidemics; a single-use injection device that helped women access contraception and take control of their health. He is remembered as a thoughtful leader whose compassion was recognized by all who encountered him.

His career was marked by a commitment to reproductive health, including leadership roles in clinical research at Ortho Research Foundation and health policy at the Planned Parenthood Foundation of America. Over the course of fourteen years at the Ford Foundation, he worked extensively in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, designing innovative solutions for family planning and health.

As the first director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, Dr. Perkin helped craft one of the world’s farthest-reaching philanthropic efforts for health equity and innovation. In 2010, he was appointed an Officer in the Order of Canada, one of Canada’s highest civilian honors, for his work in global health.

Up until the time of his death, Dr. Perkin remained committed to solving health challenges. He continued to relentlessly challenge the global health community to do more and do better. As he noted in an interview just a few years ago, “The element of discovery is still there, the element of challenge to be successful is still there. The drive to make a difference is still there.”

“It’s an honor to carry on the work started by Gordon and his co-founders,” said Nikolaj Gilbert, PATH’s president and CEO. “This organization is a testament to his vision and passion. Our hearts go out to his family and to all those who share our grief today.”

Dr. Perkin died on Friday, August 21, 2020. He was 85 years old. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth, known to many as Wib, and his sons Scott and Stuart.