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Remembering Senator Inouye: A Public Health Hero

Senator Inouye

by Scott J. Becker, Executive Director, APHL

At the beginning of my career, I was fortunate to work with some great health policy leaders from the public health association community.  One of the first things I learned was that they always revered and spoke glowingly of Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.  Being an inquisitive sort, I wanted to find out what was so special about this decorated war hero and man of the people of Hawaii.  I sat in on a few of his hearings and saw firsthand his gentle approach to his staff, his constituents and colleagues.  He wasn’t full of flowery language, and seemed as if he was a man of few words but many deeds.  A few years later, while working for the Association of Schools of Public Health, I was staffing the annual Hill Day and was assigned to staff the Dean of the School of Public Health from the University of Hawaii, Dean Jerrold Michael.  Turns out that he was close friends with Senator Inouye so I had an up close and personal meeting, not just the usual meet and greet.  Senator Inouye was someone who truly understood the public health mission and message.  He was intensely proud of his home state university and the work they were doing in public health.  He was personally aware of many of the initiatives ongoing in his state that improved the public’s health.  He was acutely aware because he secured its funding and was always checking in on how things were going.

Fast forward to 2007. I was taking my girls to the mall to burn off some energy on a cold winter Sunday.  As the girls ran around, I looked across the wide aisle and my eyes rested on an older man, sitting alone.  It was Senator Inouye, sitting quietly while his wife shopped.  A typical suburban scene.  My inner lobbyist came out and I darted towards him, reintroduced myself and told him how thankful we are in public health to have him on our side.  He smiled, nodded, and with a small twinkle in his eye, said that public health was really about the children and ensuring that they have a healthy future.  He graciously engaged my kids for a minute, and then was off with his wife – carrying all her purchases.  He was a regular suburban husband, who happened to be a war time hero, a champion of public health, and one of the great Senators of our day.

Thank you for leadership and passion, Senator Inouye.

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