Ronald David Continues His 'Fantasy Rescue Mission'

Ronald David, lecturer on public policy at the Kennedy School of Government (KSG), is a string of anomalies.

He is a professor at what was once the training ground for the nation's privileged elite. He witnessed four murders while growing up in a tenement building in the South Bronx.

He is a teenage father. He is an ardent feminist.

And he is a health professional who believes that curing social problems, not viruses, will solve the country's medical problems.

After six years at Harvard, David is leaving the Kennedy School at the end of this year to become the chief medical officer of the Washington, D.C. General Hospital. There he will continue his lifelong "fantasy rescue mission" to bring good health to the nation's poor.


What he will leave behind is a void that many students and faculty members say cannot be filled.

Growing Up in New York

David was born in Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx in 1948 and grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in a community that included blacks, whites, Asians, Jews, Catholics, Buddhists and other groups.

He describes that first part of his life as "Edenic," but says that a drunk-driving accident that killed his eight-year-old brother when he was 10 changed his life forever.

"After my brother's death, it became an imperative to prevent those types of tragedies," David says. "My life's work is a way of saving my brother and rescuing my family."

After his brother's death, his father became an alcoholic, leaving his mother to scramble to pay the rent and raise her son and daughter. They were forced to move to the South Bronx, where they lived in a series of tenement buildings.

"It was my first time where I felt impoverished," David says. "In my education I felt like the teachers thought we were worth less."

Death was never far away. David witnessed four separate murders between the ages of 14 and 18.

He says that all of them are still vivid in his mind, particularly a racially motivated homicide he witnessed shortly before leaving for college.

"I was in the laundromat, and the building superintendent, who was black, bumped this white woman who was bringing in her groceries. Ten minutes later her husband came down, the two men had an argument, and [the husband] shot him," David says.