We recently learned with sadness that Walter "Bill" Umstead passed away on November 7 at the age of 82. Bill served for 15 years as head of procurement at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), from 1976 until 1991. He is remembered with great respect and fondness by those who worked with him, for his commitment and competence, his fairness as a manager, and his dedication to the professional development of his staff. Colleagues recall that he viewed mistakes as learning opportunities and encouraged his employees to develop their skills and knowledge, rewarding good performance by promoting staff from within. Among his many lasting contributions, he was instrumental in the establishment of the PAHO Revolving Fund for vaccines and related supplies.
Bill was an excellent procurement director not only in normal times but also under exceptional circumstances. He played a critically important role following the 1991 coup d'état in Haiti, when an international embargo left PAHO as the only source of legally imported fuel in the country. It fell to Bill to contract tankers and arrange the safe transfer and distribution of fuel to authorized beneficiaries throughout Haiti. He also became the administrator of humanitarian flights, which were the only flights allowed under the final phase of the embargo. His strong commitment to flexible emergency operating procedures and appropriate delegation of authority were critical to meeting humanitarian needs during this crisis as well as others.
I have a very personal memory that illustrates Bill's commitment and personal engagement in solving procurement challenges. Back in 1987, we received an urgent call in the PAHO country office in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic. The National Rabies Center at the Ministry of Health had been contacted by a rural clinic in Yamasa, Monte Plata-far from the capital-reporting that a 9-month-old baby girl had been bitten in the face by a wild mongoose. She was being transported in a military helicopter to Santo Domingo. We all knew that only rabies immunoglobulin would be able to save her. I called Bill Umstead and explained the case to him. He rushed to get the immunoglobulin, telephoned Eastern Airlines, and found the next flight from Washington National through Miami to Santo Domingo. He went personally to the airport with the cold package and documentation, and spoke directly with the pilot, who promised to hand-deliver the package to his colleague in Miami. We collected the package that same night from the pilot's hands. The whole process had taken from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and I administered the globulin to the baby that same night. She survived and now must be 25 years old. I am sure she does not know that Bill saved her life.
Bill Umstead is survived by his wife Florence, his children Paul and Catherine, and four grandchildren. He continues to be admired and appreciated by his former colleagues at PAHO, as he was in life.
Dr. Mirta Roses Periago