Remember Bauer through his words

By From page B4 | May 29, 2013

When you live a life as long and full as Herb Bauer, inevitably your obit will omit some important contributions you made to your community.

Jeff Hudson’s front-page story on May 26 — “Herbert Bauer, the ‘conscience of Davis,’ dies at age 103” — explains why Dr. Bauer first came to Davis 58 years ago:

“… Herbert Bauer took jobs in the medical field in several parts of California, becoming Yolo County’s first full-time public health officer in 1955, with an office in the basement of the county building in Woodland, and a staff of five.”

What wasn’t mentioned, though, was that less than a year later, Herb became a weekly Davis Enterprise columnist and remained one for many years.

As best I can tell, Herb’s column, “The County’s Health,” began March 15, 1956. That, at least, is the oldest entry of his I found on microfilm. However, his first words suggest there was a previous piece:

“Last week, we talked about those who kill themselves slowly and in liquid fashion, by drowning themselves in alcohol.”

Of the hundred or so I have read, the goal in all of Dr. Bauer’s pieces, which ran with his photograph and his title, “By Herbert Bauer, M.D., Yolo County Health Officer,” was to educate his readers. He usually addressed a public health topic that was in the news and of global importance, and at some point he explained how or why that issue had local significance.

A big concern of Dr. Bauer’s for years was immunization. Keep in mind that he arrived in Yolo County in 1955, the same year Jonas Salk announced that he had an injectable polio vaccine ready for the masses.

To understand how important Salk’s research was, note that in 1952 and 1953 there were 58,000 and 35,000 new cases of polio. In 1957 there were 5,600. In 1961, the U.S. total had shrunk to 161 new cases.

Not long after Dr. Bauer came to Davis in 1955, he directed the county’s program to inoculate all 2,425 first- and second-graders for polio.

Following his cheery introduction in his March 15, 1956, column about people drinking themselves to death, Herb laid out the facts about suicide, including how many took place locally.

“In Yolo County, seven persons died from suicide last year, thereby making it the seventh-ranking cause of death in our county,” Bauer wrote.

“Nationwide, suicide is the ninth among the leading causes of death in the entire population. However, taking only persons between 55 and 69 years, suicide is the fourth or fifth cause of death!”

For what it’s worth, the Centers for Disease Control’s latest numbers show that suicide is now America’s 10th leading cause of death. Of 2,468,435 deaths in 2010, 38,364 people (1.55 percent) took their own lives.

In his March 22, 1956, column, Dr. Bauer, who had just come back from a meeting of the Northern California Public Health Association, addressed some problems that were then going on in the newly incorporated city of Fremont in Alameda County.

Bauer explained that the residents were upset that all sorts of new taxes were being imposed upon them to pay new municipal costs that they never before had as an unincorporated community. Nonetheless, Dr. Bauer thought the expense was worth it.

And he tied the situation in Fremont to one then brewing in West Sacramento:

“The large part of the population of Yolo County east of the causeway lives in unincorporated areas. Sooner or later, they will be faced with the same decision.

“At least from the standpoint of the health department, we can give them this assurance: public health services will in no way depend on their political status. If our standards are adequate, no changes would be needed in case of incorporation; and if they are not, improvements are called for here and now.”

West Sacramento incorporated 31 years later, in 1987.

Dr. Bauer’s third column celebrated the work of the then-eight-year-old World Health Organization. He praised what he called the WHO’s bold pronouncement: that “peace depends on health as a fundamental right.”

The Earth had far fewer people 57 years ago. And they had a lot less money:

“It makes all the difference in the world where you are born,” Bauer wrote. “Only one-fifth of the world’s 2 billion people live in so-called developed areas where the average yearly per capita income is $500, and the overall life expectancy is 63 years.

“But no less than two-thirds of our globe’s population live in so-called underdeveloped areas where the average yearly per capita income is only one-tenth of ours, namely the equivalent of $50, and their life expectancy is 30 years.”

Today there are more than 7 billion people on Earth. Life expectancy globally is now 69.91 years and it is 78.64 years in the United States. America’s per capita income has risen to $49,922 (2012), which, adjusting for inflation, would have been $5,914 in 1956.

Even when someone has the good fortune to live as long and prosperous a life as Herb Bauer, there is sadness in his passing. Inevitably, we all selfishly want life to go on forever.

Those who knew Herb best take comfort in fond memories. The general public can look to old copies of The Enterprise to relive many of his timeless thoughts in his columns.

— Rich Rifkin is a Davis resident; his column is published every other week. Reach him at [email protected]

Rich Rifkin

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