Many people reading this will know Rupert Walder far better than I. Rupert and I were virtual colleagues, writing about global sexual and reproductive health issues on different continents in a new media world here on RH Reality Check. Our communication was limited to email, and reading his twice-monthly posts from the UK. Given the virtual nature of our connection and work, it is fitting that it was via Facebook, and a connection from Beth Fredrick, to Patricia Sears, to me, that the sad news was delivered.
Rupert Walder, 42, suffered a massive heart attack and died Tuesday evening. He is survived by his wife Michelle, to whom we send our deepest sympathy.
Rupert worked for nearly 20 years as an international advocate doing mostly communications and media work on sexual and reproductive health and rights, building partnerships and networks helping people connect and communicate their truth to policy makers.
His career was long on accomplishment, from work at the International Planned Parenthood Foundation to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, and numerous consultancies, Rupert's work touched the lives of many. Working with the BBC and IPPF, Rupert managed the Sexwise Project, which used national radio broadcasts and national language resources to provide sex education and information to BBC World Service audiences and other target groups. Rupert also managed the IPPF and UNFPA Face-to-Face campaign raising advocacy and awareness for women's rights in 23 countries.
Rupert's work took him around the world, consulting on many projects with various international organizations, doing reports to help improve the lives of women in Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, and globally at international conferences in Beijing and Cairo. As a writer, editor, and reporter, Rupert's published work includes a number of reports, articles and journals on a range of topics on sexual and reproductive health.
According to those who knew him best, Rupert had an instant impact on people, touching them quickly, connecting deeply, making fast friends that enjoyed laughter and good times.
"Rupert helped me get my sea legs in Europe when Guttmacher was first starting to work there. We met having breakfast with Dilys Cossey at Parliament. It was a bit surreal, the setting, being with Dilys, a grande dame of the movement, and Rupert couldn't have been more generous," said Beth Fredrick of the International Women's Health Coalition.
When asked about Rupert as a friend, Fredrick roared with laughter, "Everyone has great stories about Rupert, but most won't get told publicly. Suffice it to say he threw great dinner parties."
"Rupert's sense of humor was so very dry, so very British," said Emily Douglas, who worked closely with Rupert at RH Reality Check. "He was both very frustrated by, and very dedicated to, sexual and reproductive health development work. Rupert was critical of the fact that the work wasn't pursued more urgently and in a less compromised way."
Over the past year Rupert wrote 24 pieces on RH Reality Check, all of them a tribute to his thinking and passion to make the world a better place. One personal favorite was Beware of Americans Bearing Gifts, a piece he told us in the opening line he didn't want to do, but in the end skewered the Bush Administration's go-it-alone approach to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), based on the reality of how the program is adversely impacting other global funders. Indeed, Rupert gave voice to many who are frustrated with far too many compromises and far too little urgency.
Wendy Thomas, CEO of the Migraine Trust in London where Rupert was the Communications Manager for the past year said, "I have known Rupert for 10 years. As well as being a friend, he was a great work colleague and had a wonderful facility for getting on with everyone. He had a wry sense of humor. He was impossibly well connected and always made me laugh. He and Michelle were very happy and whenever he said, 'My wife thinks I should …' he had a smile on his face."
Patricia Sears of NEKTI Consulting said, "The glory of Rupert Walder was in all the gifts he gave us as his colleagues and friends. He made us think better, act smarter, write better and enjoy what we did contributing to the worldwide effort for reproductive health & rights. He enriched us with his ribald humor and appreciation for recreation after a hard day's work; we enjoyed robust laughter over libations which was a great relief."
Sears added, "Rupert and I first started working together in 1997 in the run-up to Cairo+5 and he was my early morning phone call as we compared notes and planned on who and how we would bring in colleagues from around the world to tell their own stories in their words with their passion for solutions to the world stage and decision-makers. It was always intense, we were tested by all kinds of logistics and of course funding and accompanying politics; usually it all came to fruition with satisfying success. After 'moving on' from employees to consultants we constantly schemed on how to work together as partners. Alas, that was never realized; a great frustration. However, Rupert developed a refreshing voice as he contributed to RH Reality Check's blogs these past several months; it was great to 'see' him again there."