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Mark White

Profile Updated: May 11, 2020
Class Year
Residing In
Atlanta, GA USA
Shelly Joan Ahmann
Occupation during your working years
aspiring writer
Any Children or grand children?
Alexander, 38; Daniel, 36; Leila, 16; ZuZu, 13
Comments about life and living

Our classmate Bobbie Firnhaber and I were married while getting liberal arts degrees at MSU. Then, inspired by the Vietnam War, I went to medical school (Wayne State and UM) to graduate into the fabled “yellow beret” generation of doctors. My residency in internal medicine taught me that staying up all night every third night sucks, so I took a job at the Centers for Disease Control as an epidemiologist. At least I could sleep between epidemics.

I asked for a job in a developing country so they sent me to Arkansas and then assigned me to be a bubonic plague specialist in Colorado. I’m not making this up. After a couple of years they sent me to the Peter Bent Brigham hospital in Boston to become an infectious diseases specialist, then back to Colorado. The travel was hard on Bobbie, who left with our two little boys. Alex was named after a famous epidemiologist and became a television and advertising writer. Daniel was named after his pediatrician and grew up to get a degree in Asian History. He teaches English in Japan where he lives with his Japanese wife.

I quit CDC and moved to New York to head an infectious diseases department at a big hospital in Queens. Saw some of the first AIDS patients and a lot of other stuff, fell in love with the head nurse of the intensive care unit, a wonderful Filipina named Felilia Mendoza, aka Budsy. Besotted with everything Filipino, and inspired by the chance to join a bloodless middle class revolution (how many of these are we going to see in our life times?) I got a job with CDC as consultant to the Philippine Department of Health to help them set up an epidemiology department. it was wonderful. Budsy and I unwisely spent a night on the slopes of Mount Pinatubo when it erupted in 1990, worked an Ebola virus outbreak in monkeys, and saw a lot of cholera, typhoid, earthquakes, etc. The Archbishop of Cebu threatened to excommunicate Budsy for teaching prostitutes how to put condoms on with their mouths. Her demonstrations were hilarious and I’m sure he would have relented if he watched one.

I got a job with Rockefeller Foundation after Idi Amin was overthrown to help the new government develop epidemiology training. In fairness I must admit that I was the only candidate for this and the Philippine jobs. that’s one way to get an interesting job.

We went to a game park on Lake Albert and were pleased to see there were few other visitors and you didn’t have to go with a guide. This was because soldiers had machine gunned most of the animals. People said the only way to see lions was to go to a one far corner of the game park, but we had to wait there just before dawn. Next morning we drove our little car off into the dark and, amazingly, found the lion area. We saw a puddle we speeded up to make a big splash. The moment we hit the water the car sank to the door handles in the mud. We had sunk into a water buffalo wallow and the water buffalo was lowering down at us with angry little red eyes and snorting. Water buffalos kill many more tourists each year than lions.

Sitting in the car we could see streams of bubbles coming up in the mud around us as the car settled. Having no other choice, we climbed out through the window and waded to the edge. Then we crept past the buffalo which, thank God, did not charge us. Then we hiked down the road as the sun rose. Just the time the lions were supposed to be hunting.

About a mile down the road we came to a village and convinced the villagers to help us. They clearly enjoyed the excitement and agreed to pull us out for 1,000 shillings, about $10. We hiked back surrounded by the whole population of the village. When we got to the water buffalo, a kid who looked about ten years old tossed a pebble at it and it ran away and we got our car back.
Unfortunately Budsy developed breast cancer so we had to return to the US where CDC generously rehired me as director of the Division of International Health, which did epidemiology training globally. When she died I just got on a plane and traveled around Asia to stay with our friends in the Philippines, China, and Japan, and Lyon for a few weeks. Then went back to become a bureaucrat for the next ten years.

There was lots of travel, but what sticks in my mind was when the Minister of Health in China invited me to a formal dinner in my honor.

Waiters brought dozens of small dishes, and I was pleased to be able to show off my skills with chopsticks. Then they brought a bowl of cherry tomatoes. Each person took a couple with their chopsticks. When it came to me, the tomato fell from my chopstick and rolled onto the floor. Quick to save the situation, I snatched up another. It fell to the table and rolled into her lap. I am forever be grateful to her for reaching out and picking up a cherry tomato with her fingers, popping it into her mouth. She then graciously passed the bowl back to me and I did the same. Like Blanch Dubois, I rely on the kindness of strangers.

About fifteen years ago, I married the wonderful Shelly Ahmann, wonderful old friend A few years my junior. She was Chief of Surgery at the Northern Navajo Medical Center in northern New Mexico. She showed me remote canyons here we climbed to forgotten Anasazi Indian cliff dwellings. when we climbed up, you could still find little desiccated corn cobs, left from prehistoric times by the many others who discovered this place. Amazing.

As our lives together progressed we began to feel the existential question of what will we do for the rest of our lives to make the world a better place. We decided to adopt AIDS orphans from Ethiopia. When we wrote the orphanage in Addis Ababa (means new flower), they sent us pictures of two biological sisters, 5- and 2-years old. Ethiopians call themselves “The Beautiful People,” and they right. Leila is 16 and plans to become a fashion designer, ZuZu is 13 . Both get nearly all A’s. ZuZu is a counselor at a circus camp where she does amazing shows high on ropes and the trapeze. Both are getting nearly all A’s in school. But they are teenagers.

Leila spent many years studying classical ballet. Amazingly to anyone who knows how poorly I dance, they asked me to play a major part in an updated version of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping beauty. I’m the decrepit old man. Makeup, of course can completely change the appearance. . Here you see me christening Sleeping Beauty. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPK6AfLtZVI. Here at about 20 seconds you can see me spoiling Sleeping Beauty’s 16th birthday and then being beat up by the evil fairy Scarabus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbvZBD9xqHM.

I remain, as I have been my entire life, an aspiring writer, and I am writing seriously on a memoir now. If I ever get something published, I hope you’ll buy it. Who knows? You might find yourself in it.

School Stories

when Mr. Shirer was principal there was some kerfuffle in the cafeteria and he had them lock us in at lunch for awhile. My friends and I made an effigy of him with a Nazi armband and sneaked into school in the dead of night and hung it right in front of school.

We were saddened not to see it when we arrived and all morning I listened for the announcement summoning me to Mr. Shirer's office. Finally I was unable to hold my curiosity and went to the office. the secretary led me in where the effigy was sitting in his chair with its feet up on the desk. the Nazi armband was gone, but they had put his reading glasses on it.

When the janitors took the effigy down they put it behind his desk and he thought it was so funny that he kept it.

So much for my rebellion.

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Jun 12, 2019 at 12:11 PM

Margot, I just finished reading this amazing book about Virginia Hall, an American spy in France who spent the war running an increasingly large part of the French resistance. I'd love to hear what you and your mother think. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/24/books/review/sonia-purnell-woman-no-importance-virginia-hall.html

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Jun 02, 2019 at 11:11 PM

Jay, good to hear about your grandson visiting Philippines. You or he can reach me at 404-735-7547 or mark@markewhite.com.

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Mar 12, 2019 at 7:21 PM

NYT published a rave review of a bio of an unsung prominent resistance leader several minutes ago. Check it out! https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/12/books/review/lynne-olson-madame-fourcades-secret-war.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage . I downloaded my copy already.

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Posted on: Jun 05, 2017 at 2:28 PM

Chér Margot,

A belated Happy Birthday. I recently read an interesting book on how the Brits and Americans dealt with/treated members of underground groups in occupied countries. I seem to recall you mother had something to do with the underground in the war and thought you might like to read it.
Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War
By Lynne Olson

NYT Review: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/05/books/review/last-hope-island-lynne-olson.html
Better, shorter review from Foreign affairs: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/capsule-review/2017-02-13/last-hope-island-britain-occupied-europe-and-brotherhood-helped

I'd love to hear about you mother's adventures back then—or yours recently. We will be vacationing near Petosky this summer. Is it anywhere near where you live? If so, It would be nice to chat.

?Mark White?
cell 404-7357547

No artist is ahead of his time. He is his time; it is just that others are behind the time. ?— Martha Graham?

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