As a former civil servant, I didn’t get much respect. Most civil servants don’t because rarely is the work that we do of note or of interest to those who don’t work closely with us. All civil servants though take an oath that we will support and defend the constitution of the United States.
Occasionally there emerges an example of a civil servant of exceptional distinction. Dr. Anthony Fauci, soon to be retired director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID, which is part of the National Institute of Health) is one of those rare exceptions. He exemplifies what can be best about the civil service and devoted fifty years of his life doggedly doing his best to make the country less vulnerable to infectious diseases.
I hadn’t heard of him prior to 2020. The covid-19 crisis had just started in March 2020 when we left on a cruise out of Fort Lauderdale, which turned out to be one of the last cruises that sailed before the pandemic shut them all down. There were no cases on our cruise ship, but two of the ships that left the same day from the same port as ours had cases.
Our cruise though was blessed with passengers full of highly educated nerds. One turned out to be an epidemiologist and he happily organized an impromptu meeting for all those who wanted to learn more about covid-19. From him I first heard the name Anthony Fauci. His bottom line: if you wanted to get the best known advice about what to do about covid-19, you’ve got to listen to Dr. Fauci.
When we returned a week later, Fauci’s face was all over the news. He was the face of the pandemic to most Americans. Even in the midst of the crazy Trump Administration, he couldn’t be shut up. He told Americans what he knew and what we could do to the best of his knowledge as it evolved. It took a few weeks to learn that this disease was mostly spread in the air, so the use of masks could do a lot to control its spread.
While Trump and Republicans in general spread conspiracy theories and encouraged civil disobedience, Fauci kept right on telling the truth, even in front of Trump himself. For the rest of Trump’s term I expected Fauci to be unceremoniously fired, but strangely it never happened. When Joe Biden’s term began, one of his first acts was to elevate Tony Fauci to Chief Medical Advisor to the President.
For over fifty years, Fauci has been a dedicated civil servant. Since 1984 he’s been NIAID’s director. His work has been tireless and relentless, and he repeatedly turned down promotion opportunities to direct the NIH. He’s been instrumental in a number of medical achievements, including AIDS treatments and rheumatology. Like many civil servants, he never sought the spotlight. He did what scientists and physicians are supposed to do: provide the best guidance possible based on the best known science.
I might add that our government is full of people like Fauci, who dedicate their careers to causes larger than themselves. These unseen workers advance science and relieve a lot of pointless misery by tacking large and systemic medical issues.
To me, what made Fauci particularly notable though was his courage to say no to power and his willingness to meet regularly with the press to promote his understanding and the known science. Within the whole Trump Administration, he was undoubtably the civil servant that showed the most courage. When we needed someone to tell us the truth and to tell truth to power, he delivered. Despite constant attacks against him and his family, he persevered and endured.
By the end of 2022 though the good doctor, now age 81, plans to finally retire. One hope that whoever succeeds him will show similar brilliance and courage, but there’s no guarantee of that.
Thanks to Dr. Fauci, I got through the pandemic pretty well. When I learned that masking was helpful, of course I masked. When I learned that cleaning surfaces was largely pointless, I stopped. I learned that when outdoors if you weren’t near others you should be safe, so I continued my cherished daily walks through it all, largely unmasked and away from others. I got vaccinations as soon as I could arrange them, and so far have had a total of five shots. So far I’ve avoided acquiring covid-19, making me one of a dwindling minority of Americans. Fauci helped me figure out what I needed to worry about and what I didn’t. I rarely broke a sweat worrying about the pandemic. I followed his advice and endured it reasonably well.
I do hope before he retires that President Biden takes the obvious last step: give Dr. Fauci a Medal of Freedom. Unlike some of its recent recipients like the late Rush Limbaugh, he absolutely deserves it. When Dr. Fauci passes on, I hope the president will grant a further honor and have flags lowered in half mast to honor his service.
In my mind, Fauci is a hero and represents the best of America. He has my undying gratitude for a life of public service where the public was actually put first.