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Dream MakerJoel Nakamura

Dream Maker

In late February 1970, my new husband Eric and I arrived in what was then East Pakistan. We had been married just weeks before.

We had come to the northern part of what is now Bangladesh so Eric could study tropical medicine during his pediatrics residency. I volunteered to work on the children’s ward of the main hospital there.

What I witnessed shocked me. We met young patients afflicted with malnutrition, blindness, diarrheal disease and other severe illnesses. One 5-year-old’s growth was so stunted he looked like a 9-month-old. Many children lost their vision because of vitamin A deficiency.

I grew up in comfort in Montgomery County, Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C. This was a new world to me. I had never before encountered people ravaged by a lack of clean water, vaccines, health care and proper nutrition. The reality of a developing country was traumatic and terribly common. The first time we walked into the hospital, my husband saved a child’s life by adjusting his IV fluids. Leprosy plagued the area. I often saw a beggar on the train who did not have a nose.

During our stint there, I saw the full power of public health—its necessity, its importance, its potential to solve the problems of the world. Public health was already in my blood: my mother worked at the D.C. health department. Our time in East Pakistan and later in Japan made me a passionate believer in and advocate for the discipline.

Public health would come to define my career and, in fact, my life.

I’m not a scientist. I’m not a researcher or practitioner of public health, but I’ve brought the talents I do have—creativity, passion and commitment—to public health. I serve public health in a very different way than most. I contribute by raising funds to support it.

People often ask me, “How do you ask for money? Isn’t that uncomfortable?”

No. It’s an honor. Asking for money to support public health was never a problem for me. I don’t even see my job as raising money. I see it as connecting people with their dreams.

Let me give you an example. One of the things I’m most proud of is working with alumnus Stephen Moore, MD, MPH ’93, and his wife Julia to create The Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. Established in October 2012, it is the first and as yet only academic center in the world devoted to a problem that affects countless individuals. As a physician whose family has been terribly scarred by sexual abuse, Dr. Moore wanted to do something to prevent the same thing from happening to others. He knew the power of public health.

When he asked me if our School would take on this challenge, I said absolutely we would. The Bloomberg School is not afraid to shine the public health light on the most difficult issues. That’s what we do.

To do my part to make this happen, I build relationships. To do that, I travel. I’ve flown countless miles and had countless meetings during my 29 years at Johns Hopkins. I’ve traveled everywhere from Texas to Tokyo, visiting alumni and donors—many of whom ultimately have become dear friends. Right now as I begin thinking about this essay, I’m 1,200 miles away from East Baltimore, in Florida. I just finished having lunch with a lovely woman. We talked about her parents’ life and their public health work in Nigeria. We worked together to document a student scholarship in her father’s name in the Department of International Health. Next I spoke with an MPH alumnus about establishing a new MPH scholarship in his family’s name.

These gifts represent the future: They may support a student who someday will solve a basic science problem important to the eradication of malaria; or one who plays a role in establishing a policy that will save the lives of malnourished children.

Who knows?

I do know that my work over these many years has been an honor and a joy. What else can you say about a job that allows you to help make people’s dreams a reality?

Ricky Fine, MS, MEd, the director of Major Gifts and Governmental Relations, will retire in May 2014 but says she will never leave public health—it’s in her blood.


  • Lisa Firth

    US but currently Uganda 06/05/2014 06:54:55 AM

    Warmest good wishes on your retirement, Ricky! Your unique talents, particularly your ability to connect with people from all walks of life, will be sorely missed. I will always remember your great kindness to me as an MPH student ('86) and later at the Hopkins hospitality suite for the APHA conference in San Diego - which you let me use as a nursing mother's refuge. Congratulations on your many accomplishments and contributions to the School.

  • Bunny Mosley

    2118 Woodfork Road, Timonium, MD 21093 06/05/2014 01:49:11 PM

    Ricky, Thank you so much for giving your very special gifts to serve the Hopkins School of Public Health. Funding is such a basic and important part of the work. I am grateful that you have been willing to give your enormous talents and exceptional enthusiasm to help fund research, the school, and the individuals who benefit from the programs relating the to Public Health.

  • Dr Vinod Nikhra

    Delhi, India 06/05/2014 10:15:29 PM

    Liked very much the wordings, 'I do have—creativity, passion and commitment—to public health. (I am) connecting people with their dreams. ..To do my part to make this happen, .. build relationships.' Magical words. Kudos. Dr Vinod Nikhra

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