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The Master Connector

William Henry Welch is the School’s origin story, the point-source of the chain reaction of discovery from one cohort of researchers to the next.

Brian W. Simpson, Editor
By Brian W. Simpson, MPH ’13, Editor • Illustration by Patrick Kirchner

Perhaps on certain spring evenings, William Henry Welch steps down from the famous John Singer Sargent painting in the Welch Library building and crosses Monument Street in his great, flowing black robe to check on his baby.

I can see “Popsy” pass through the tinted glass entrance and stroll through the School he founded a century ago. I can see him roam the familiar halls of the original building, wrinkle his brow as he stares up at the atria of the new reading rooms and poke around in the state-of-the-art labs (likely just as cluttered as they were when he was a pathologist).

By the time he founded the School in 1916, he was 66 years old. A portly lifelong bachelor, he piled correspondence on chairs in his office and found respite in weekends in Atlantic City (he liked his resorts “vulgar,” he told his sister). He was, in short, a very real person.

He’s also the School’s origin story—the first faculty member, the first dean, the point-source from which our history flows. He set the vision that would propel this remarkable enterprise into the future. A master connector of key people to positions, he achieved this by selecting the right people like physiologist William H. Howell and the legendary E.V. McCollum.

Our “Generations” story got me thinking about Welch and the chain reaction of discovery from one cohort of researchers to the next. Each generation has added knowledge, resulting in incremental and sometimes astounding progress over the last century.

If you ever happen to see Popsy strolling the halls of the Bloomberg School, please say hi…  and thanks.

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