June 15, 2003 - Wichita Eagle: Nepal RPCV Pat MacDonald retires as director of health education for the Sedgwick County Health Department

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Nepal: Peace Corps Nepal : The Peace Corps in Nepal: June 15, 2003 - Wichita Eagle: Nepal RPCV Pat MacDonald retires as director of health education for the Sedgwick County Health Department

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Nepal RPCV Pat MacDonald retires as director of health education for the Sedgwick County Health Department

Read and comment on this story from the Wichita Eagle about Nepal RPCV Pat MacDonald who is retiring as director of health education for the Sedgwick County Health Department at:

Local face of public health to retire*

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Local face of public health to retire

Sedgwick County Health Department spokeswoman Pat MacDonald will step aside Friday after 30 years as a public health advocate.


The Wichita Eagle

You might not recognize her name right off.

If you saw her at a restaurant or store, you'd probably think the face looks familiar, even if you couldn't quite place her.

For three decades, Pat MacDonald has been the public face of public health, the official spokeswoman on such subjects as smoking bans, fluoride and AIDS.

Now, she's stepping down.

Friday is her last day as director of health education for the Sedgwick County Health Department, her official job title.

"I'm going to lose half my identity," MacDonald, 62, joked as she looked ahead to retirement and reflected on her career.

Public health -- the part of health care that teaches people how to protect themselves against disease and pollution -- is losing more than a spokeswoman.

"She just has a passion for people and for helping people," said Larry Jecha, a physician who headed the Health Department in the 1990s. "She lived and breathed public health... She really firmly believed in it."

City Manager Chris Cherches, one of her bosses until the county took full control of the Health Department about a year ago, said, "I can think of no other person that can explain health concerns in such a clear, concise and professional manner."

Trisha Walls, public relations specialist for the American Cancer Society in Wichita, was impressed from the first by MacDonald's ability to "pull an issue together in a few pertinent sound bites so everyone can understand and relate to it."

Some of those sound bites have become what insiders call "Pat Mac Facts."

"I've been known to -- I don't want to say 'embellish' -- but to add something," MacDonald said.

Last summer, when people were reluctant to put dead birds in their freezers to be tested later for West Nile virus, MacDonald recommended double-bagging the birds, "which made it more acceptable to put in your freezer. Well, that's a Pat Mac Fact" not based on science.

Another one --"Secondary virginity is better than no virginity" -- came about after she saw a headline in the grocery store, on a magazine story about young women who had decided not to stay sexually active. "That seemed like a sensible thing to encourage," she said.

Issues change over time

Over 30 years, MacDonald has moved from pencils and papers to Windows, from "hold" buttons to caller ID, from mimeograph machines to cell phones.

The issues have moved from smoke-free buildings to AIDS to SARS and monkeypox.

What's the one question she never thought she'd be asked?

"How a sexually transmitted disease is transmitted," she said.

"To talk about warts and chancres and sores and crabs. And methods of birth control. Wow. I never pictured me doing that sort of thing."

Though she is assured, professional and ahead of her time in the public health arena, in her private life MacDonald admits to being a touch old-fashioned, and a bit nervous at being in the spotlight.

She is protective of her husband, Guy, who retired not long ago, and their daughter, Lauren, a student at Wichita State University, preferring to keep them and her home life out of the public eye.

We can divulge this much: She has a swimming pool in her back yard, which she intends to use this summer. She has a chocolate Lab named Mocha who was a stray. She and Guy annually entertain WSU students from Nepal. She eats broccoli or spinach every day. And she suspects that two weeks after retiring, she'll be saying, "OK, what's next?"

Building a career

Caption: MacDonald, who taught science in Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer, moved to Wichita, Kansas in 1972.

MacDonald, who worked as a chemist on the East Coast and taught science in Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer, moved to Wichita when Guy was transferred here in 1972.

She hadn't planned to work. But with Guy out making sales calls, "I found myself sitting there watching television. In my nightgown."

After two days of that, she went job hunting. She had worked for the Lung Association back east (it's where she gave up smoking, in 1969) so she took a job first at the Arthritis Foundation, for nine months.

She joined the Health Department in 1973 at the invitation of then-director Mervyn Silverman, also a Nepal-based Peace Corps veteran. In 1979, she became director of health education.

Her work was recognized 10 years ago by the Kansas Public Health Association, which gave her its first Public Health Education Award.

Looking ahead, MacDonald is sure the Health Department is in good hands, though she thinks it would make more sense to have environmental health functions -- air quality, restaurant inspections and the like -- back under the same roof rather than in city government's hands because health issues are health issues, regardless of political boundaries.

For months, she has been preparing others to spread the word about disease and other public health problems. Always know three facts, she tells them: The description, the route of transmission and prevention.

"It wouldn't be public health if you didn't talk about prevention."

Now, she said, it's time for her to move on. She, Guy and her mother are all in good health. Lauren is on her own.

It's time to step out of the public eye. It's time for travel and doing what she wants, when she wants.

"You only need so much to live on," she said. "So why wait?"
Reach Karen Shideler at 268-6674 or kshideler@wichitaeagle.com.

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