March 8, 2005: Headlines: COS - Togo: Tsunami: WHO: World Health Organization: COS - Indonesia : Oregon Live: "Well, my wife said that I said I failed retirement," Garry Presthus said humorously about Marie-Jeanne Presthus, whom he met in Togo in the late 1960s while active during college with the Peace Corps. His Peace Corps experience ultimately led him to WHO.

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Togo: Peace Corps Togo : The Peace Corps in Togo: March 8, 2005: Headlines: COS - Togo: Tsunami: WHO: World Health Organization: COS - Indonesia : Oregon Live: "Well, my wife said that I said I failed retirement," Garry Presthus said humorously about Marie-Jeanne Presthus, whom he met in Togo in the late 1960s while active during college with the Peace Corps. His Peace Corps experience ultimately led him to WHO.

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-123-27.balt.east.verizon.net - 151.196.123.27) on Wednesday, March 09, 2005 - 3:51 am: Edit Post

"Well, my wife said that I said I failed retirement," Garry Presthus said humorously about Marie-Jeanne Presthus, whom he met in Togo in the late 1960s while active during college with the Peace Corps. His Peace Corps experience ultimately led him to WHO.

Well, my wife said that I said I failed retirement, Garry Presthus said humorously about Marie-Jeanne Presthus, whom he met in Togo in the late 1960s while active during college with the Peace Corps. His Peace Corps experience ultimately led him to WHO.

"Well, my wife said that I said I failed retirement," Garry Presthus said humorously about Marie-Jeanne Presthus, whom he met in Togo in the late 1960s while active during college with the Peace Corps. His Peace Corps experience ultimately led him to WHO.

Retiree can't sit still when he's needed
Garry Presthus helps the World Health Organization during emergencies such as the tsunami in Asia
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
JUSTIN MUCH

BATTLE GROUND H e has stepped foot on every continent except Antarctica, and he has worked toward eradicating diseases such as smallpox, river blindness and polio. You would think not much could surprise Garry Presthus.

Then there was the tsunami.

"The magnitude of disaster was so big; there is absolutely nothing you can compare it to," said Presthus, 61, a Battle Ground resident and retired World Health Organization worker. "It would be like an avalanche going through the city of Portland, leveling everything."

The tsunami, along with an increase in polio cases in west-central Africa last year, essentially ousted Presthus from retirement after 32 years with WHO. WHO, a United Nations agency that specializes in health, solicited his extensive experience and skills to help administer the colossal stream of aid to survivors in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital of Indonesia. He spent six weeks in January and February helping coordinate the disaster relief efforts, such as the allotment of medical and food supplies to survivors.

The trip came shortly after a polio immunization assignment for WHO in Zimbabwe and the Ivory Coast.

Despite his years of experience working on WHO projects, Presthus was not prepared for what he saw when he flew into the northern Sumatra coastal city of Banda Aceh in mid-January.

Thousands of relief workers were still finding an average of 400 dead a day. Significantly more than 100,000 were killed and buried in mass graves in Sumatra's Aceh Province alone. Indonesia's health minister, Siti Fadilah, estimated his country's death toll at more than 166,000, but he had abandoned any hope of a specific number.

"You just think it can't happen," Presthus said. "The earthquake was so severe people couldn't stand outside.

"The waves that hit the area were 25 meters high (82 feet) and moved 11 meters per second," he said. "If you do the math, it comes out to about 60 mph. It's almost hard to imagine -- for seven kilometers square, (2.7 square miles) nothing was left standing. That gives you an idea of the magnitude of the situation."

Presthus -- active by nature -- felt duty-bound when WHO called him back.

"Well, my wife said that I said I failed retirement," Presthus said humorously about Marie-Jeanne Presthus, whom he met in Togo in the late 1960s while active during college with the Peace Corps. His Peace Corps experience ultimately led him to WHO.

"Yeah, my dad retired in 2001, but he just can't stay still," said Gregory Presthus, 23, who was born in Seattle just before his parents moved to Papua New Guinea, where his father initiated a WHO immunization program. Before that, the couple lived in Africa, where Garry Presthus worked on smallpox eradication in the Congo and Zaire, then on onchocerciasis -- river blindness -- in Botswana.

"When they called and asked if I would go to Papua New Guinea, we got out the atlas and decided, 'That looks interesting,' " he said. "So we went there for five years. I enjoyed it. It wasn't a picnic while we were there, but we saw results by the time we left."

Seeing a society improve its health, especially among children, inspires Presthus more than anything else, and he calls those assignments his most rewarding. Especially since in Botswana, river blindness had been epidemic when he arrived and was gone when he left.

His career, however, covered the globe. From Papua New Guinea, he transferred to the WHO regional office in Manila, the Philippines, and from there he worked in China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and many others in the South Pacific. He then went to Yemen for two years in the mid-1980s, then to Nepal for two years before spending five years in India.

Before his "retirement," Presthus spent his final seven years in an administrative position at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Throughout all his globetrotting, however, some of his most surprising discoveries were upon returning home to his native Battle Ground. After graduating from Battle Ground High School in the early 1960s, he attended Clark College before finishing up at the University of Washington with a political science degree in 1969.

"Clark College, when I attended, had 1,000 students," he said of the campus that taught 8,241 students in the fall of 2004. "Battle Ground is no longer a sleepy little town of 1,000; it's now over 14,000. Just the growth the whole metro area has seen is incredible. Orchards was once an ice-cream stand, post office and tavern. Now it's a bit different, to say the least."

Presthus realizes that change is constant, and movement is central to change. Only three days after returning from Sumatra two weeks ago, he and Marie-Jeanne were on a plane to Europe, but this time the theme was pleasure -- sightseeing and skiing in the French Alps.

"I'll take each day as it comes along," Presthus said of his on-again, off-again retirement status. "At 60, a person is still young these days; I guess us Baby Boomers are going to be around for a while and messing up the demography and Social Security system."

But after a life of travel and experiences, will true retirement greet this kid from Battle Ground by age 70?

"I don't know; maybe yes, maybe no," he said. "Nothing is impossible. There are also a lot of golf courses I'd like to visit, still some fish I haven't caught. Maybe someday I'll do what I did when I grew up -- salmon fishing and trout fishing."





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Story Source: Oregon Live

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Togo; Tsunami; WHO; World Health Organization; COS - Indonesia

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