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Keith Flanagan

I was on my way back from a mission in northern Haiti when my cell phone rang: someone was calling me to tell me the sad news about Keith passing away. For a few seconds, I was stunned totally in disbelief and not willing to face the truth. I knew from one of Keith’s relatives that he had some health issues in the past two days, but I would never imagine that it was a fatal illness for somebody as strong, energetic and bursting with vitality as he seemed to be. When the person on the phone, by my silence, realized that I was totally under shock, he rapidly ended the conversation. And tears began to flow abundantly down my cheeks. Fortunately, I was not alone in the vehicle. The driver, with all the tact and finesse in the world, did all his best to calm me down during the rest of the trip. 

I locked myself in silence because I was not in the mood for a conversation. Memories of Keith passed rapidly before my eyes and ended up totally occupying my mind. I started having flashbacks on all his life, at list the part I had the honor and joy to know. A life characterized by outstanding human, moral and professional qualities.  A life of generosity, humility, selflessness and charity. A simple life that always put him at ease with people from all social classes, especially with the poorest of the poor.

Keith was passionate about serving others, especially since he had extensive knowledge not only in the veterinary field but also in other disciplines such as mechanics, electricity and plumbing. Thus, he always enjoyed being available to help all men and women facing any particular problem (co-workers, crops and livestock farmers, laborers and others). His Christian faith turned him towards the poorest, such as orphans, to whom he brought comfort and material support with his wife’s cooperation.

I have not had the opportunity to meet Keith at the beginning of his stay in the country, 26 years ago, when he came to work at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles in the Artibonite Valley. Our first meeting was in 1998 when he came to visit me, as Director of the Animal Health section, to lay the foundations for cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture. And since then, our relationship has continued and was even strengthened starting 2003 when he was appointed co-director and I, director for the Control and Eradication of Classical Swine Fever program, funded by USDA / APHIS and managed by the Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA). A loyal collaboration was then developed between us that would soon become more than a professional relationship: it was a friendship, which enabled the project to achieve sound results that were unfortunately ruined by the introduction of the swine encephalomyelitis Teschovirus in February 2009. Once again, Keith was an important contributor to both Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the fight against this new disease as he became the liaison between the two countries and  USDA/APHIS which provided substantial technical assistance.

On April 3rd, Haiti has lost one of his adoptive sons, one of the most courageous and deserving persons.  And I, I have lost a friend and a brother.

May his soul rest in peace!

By Dr. Max Millien, Chief Veterinary Officer, Haiti



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