Dr. Robert G. Stoddard<
Bob Stoddard (left) checks Chet Marshall's bucket list.
January 24, 2012
Two men with terminal cancer create a checklist of things they want to do before they die. That was the "bucket list" for a film of the same name -- things to do before they "kick the bucket."
Dr. Bob Stoddard has a bucket list, but he's taken the next step. "Beyond the bucket list," he told Putnam Rotarians today, "are the grand things you may never get to cross off.
"Beyond the list, we're into the things that really last, that matter to us in a profound and wonderful way."
Stoddard is talking about the complete eradication of infantile paralysis in the world.
In 1979, Rotary funded polio immunizations for six million children in the Philippines.
Since then, more than one million Rotarians have volunteered their time and personal resources to protect more than two billion.children in 122 countries from polio.
In 1985, there were over 350,000 cases a year in over 125 countries. In 2010, there were 635 cases, a reduction of over 99 percent. 150 countries are now polio-free. The last reported case in the Americas was in 1991.
"How many of you have been around since we started this crazy project," Stoddard asked. "Back in the mid-eighties, were you Rotarians then? It's the craziest idea anybody ever came up with.
"I remember when they said, 'we're going to eradicate polio.' and we have to raise several million dollars. How many 5K runs do you have to put on to raise a million dollars? It was a staggering project!
"And yet despite the fact that everybody who heard it at the beginning was staggered by the thought, I don't think anybody had any idea how much it would really take to eliminate polio. It was an extraordinary dream.
"At that point, I know I was the poorest Rotarian in my club. I was a low-end Methodist minister. My kids qualified for reduced lunches. That's how poor we were.
"And somehow, I managed to pay for lunch at Rotary. It was a stretch for us. And yet they were inviting me to be a part of this grand adventure to do something truly beyond belief --which was to eliminate a terrible scourge from the earth. Not just for today, not just for tomorrow, but just like smallpox, to eliminate it forever.
"I sincerely believe this is the greatest thing we will do in our generation.
"We've seen some amazing things done," he said, "but nothing will last like the achievement that we're a part of, and that we're getting close on -- this idea that we can eliminate polio."
Stoddard recommends the HBO documentary, "The Final Inch," on the fight against polio in western India. He shows it to his philosophy class at Mountain State. "The crowded slums with terrible sanitary conditions, how could we ever get to the last case?
"Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Clinton was in India to celebrate the first polio-free anniversary in that country. And, if you see the video, you would say, 'This could never be done!' This is truly impossible.
"And we've done it! We've done it!"
Many organizations are involved, says Stoddard. "But in large measure it's working because because local Rotarians have gone out in their communities to help organize the events that vaccinate the kids.
"But we can't let our foot off the gas on this, because the moment we slow down, polio will come roaring back. And it will be the scourge that I remember when I was a little kid.
"But I think we're going to do it, though. I really do! And long after your bucket list, and my bucket list, and all the other bucket lists are forgotten, we will have left a gift to all future generations."
In the 2007 film, the cancer victims go beyond their "bucket list." A friend marks off the final item -- "witness something truly majestic" -- as the ashes of the two men are buried on top of the Himalayas.