Thursday, January 19, 2012

In Memoriam: Judith Ladinsky, True Friend of Vietnam

Prof. Ladinsky, left, receives health award from Vietnam in 2004.
A true friend of Vietnam has died.

Judith L. Ladinsky, a humanitarian and population health sciences professor from the University of Wisconsin, who devoted her life to improving the health of the Vietnamese people, died 12 January 2012 at the age of 73 in Madison, Wisconsin.

In 1984, Ladinsky had succeeded as head of the Committee for Scientific Cooperation with Viet Nam [Uỷ bạn Hợp tác Khoa học Mỹ-Việt](USCSC),another humanitarian who devoted his life to Vietnam, Ed Cooperman (Prof of Physics Emeritus at Cal State Fullerton), who was assassinated in his Orange County, California, office in 1984 (about which more in a later blog).

A cultural profile site still lists her contact information and describes the committee as follows: "Composed of scientists, physicians and scholars from across the USA, the US Committee for Scientific Co-operation with Việt Nam (USCSC) seeks to alleviate the academic isolation suffered by the people of Việt Nam by working with their counterparts at Vietnamese institutions, hospitals and universities on joint training and research programmes and projects that empower people to pursue their own development. In the cultural field the Committee sponsors tours by Vietnamese performing artists, Vietnamese film festivals and exhibitions of work by Vietnamese artists in the USA."

Her obituary is here.

The U.S. Government has officially mourned her passing as a "great loss to both countries": U.S. Embassy, Hanoi statement. In Washington, Vietnam's Ambassador Nguyen Quoc Cuong also lauded Ladinsky as a person who "devoted her life-long passion and energy to the cause of improving the medical education and health of many people in Vietnam": Vietnam Embassy, Wash. D.C. statement.

In Little Saigon, news of her death has been covered in the English-language Nguoi Viet 2.

Here's the eulogy prepared to be read by Vietnam's Minister of Science and Technology , courtesy of Vern Weitzel, who chairs the Australian Committee for Scientific Cooperation with Viet Nam.


Read by Minister Nguyen Quan at the Memorial Service held in honor of Professor Judith L. Ladinsky on January 17, 2012, at the Ministry of Science and Technology

Ladies and Gentlemen, (if the U.S. Ambassador is attending, address him first)

We are deeply saddened by the death of Professor Judith Ladinsky – a beloved friend of the Vietnamese people. She passed away Thursday, January 12, 2012, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Hospital, after more than 30 years helping to improve Vietnamese people’s lives by providing asssistance in the fields of education, health, and science and technology. Her assistance was of great value to Vietnam, especially during the post-war period, when Vietnam was facing many hardships and difficulties.

Today we gather here to remember Professor Ladinsky and honor her contributions to Vietnam’s science and technology, education, and health sectors, as well as to the relationship between Vietnam and the United States.

Professor Ladinsky was born on June 16, 1938, in Los Angeles, California. She grew up in New York City and received degrees from the University of Michigan and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin. She was a professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences in the UW Medical School for over 30 years and was the Director of the Office of International Health. She held affiliation with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies. In the early 1970s, she changed her career focus to preventive medicine on a community level linking rural clinics to centralized specialty care. She began this work in rural Wisconsin, progressing to the Indian Health Service, and finally to Southesast Asia, particulary Vietnam.

Professor Ladinsky made the first trip to Vietnam in 1978, when Vietnam and the U.S. did not have diplomatic relations. “She developed an instant passion for the nation and its people” - said by her colleagues. In 1980, she became the Chair of the Health Committee of the U.S. Committee for Scientific Cooperation with Vietnam at the invitation of the then Chair, Dr. Edward Cooperman. In 1984, after Dr. Cooperman was murdered, she assumed Dr. Cooperman’s chairmanship and was determined to continue his work in Vietnam.

Until she died, she had made about 106 trips to Vietnam during which she delivered tons of medical supplies, books and journals to medical trainees and professionals throughout Vietnam. She also managed to mobilize millions of dollars to her humanitarian work and research in Vietnam. She paid special attention to rural health and the issue of shortage of doctors and nurses in Vietnam’s rural areas. Therefore, she assisted with lab development, training of scientific technicians and surgeons, teaching in a wide range of disciplines alongside her village health work.

She conducted extensive research and developed projects on a variety of health care topics in Vietnam, such as rural health, primary care, surgery, nutrition, HIV/AIDs and cancer treatment, and most recently on malaria, diabetes and Japanese encephalitis. She organized TOEFL tests twice a year for Vietnamese students and helped obtain scholarships for hundreds of Vietnamese students, researchers, and government officers to study and carry out research at U.S. universities. She also facilitated the treatment of numerous critically ill Vietnamese children at U.S. medical centers, enabling their receipt of life saving therapies not available in their homeland.

It’s hard to list all the difficulties she encountered during all these years, especially when Vietnam was still under U.S. embargo and later when she aged and became weaker; however, with her her great love for Vietnam, she managed to do so many meaningful things as mentioned that Vietnamese people would never forget. Professor Ladinsky was not only a respectable scientist and colleague of ours, a kind American with a goodwill towards Vietnam, but for many Vietnamese people, she was the one to whom they would be forever grateful for how she changed their lives for the better.

For her undaunted efforts and extraordinary medical service to Vietnam, she was honored by various ministries and organizations both in Vietnam and in the U.S.

She was awarded 5 medals by leaders of the Vietnamese State, ministries and organizations, including the Friendship Medal by President Tran Duc Luong in 1999, the Medal for the Cause of Education by the Ministry of Education and Training in 2001, the Medal for Dedication to the health of the people by the Ministry of Health in 2004, the Medal for the Cause of Vietnamese Women Liberation by Vietnam Women’s Union, and the Medal for the Cause of Science and Technology by the Ministry of Science and Technology in 2007, recognizing her contributions to Vietnam-U.S. science and technology cooperation over 30 years.

Most recently, in 2011, she received the prestigious 2011 Peacemaker of the Year Award from the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice for her long-term dedication to the cause of improving people’s health in Vietnam.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Not many people make great contributions that are remembered and appreciated even after they die. Only a few great people continue to live after death in people’s memory. For Vietnamese people, Professor Ladinsky is one of those. Many Vietnamese people love her and call her lovingly “Madame Vietnam”. She was considered a U.S. unofficial diplomat to Vietnam, and even was mentioned by the first U.S. Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Pete Peterson, as Vietnam’s real “first ambassador”.

Now Professor Ladinsky is gone forever but we will never forget her. May she rest in peace!

Once again, on behalf of Vietnam’s science and technology community, I would like to share the great sadness for the loss of Professor Ladinsky’s family, friends and colleagues.

May I please request that we spend one miniute of silence to remember our beloved friend and colleague, Professor Ladinsky.

(1 minute of silence)

Thank you very much for your participation in this ceremony.