Gene Farley and I shared a deep affection for Tommy Douglas, the Baptist preacher-turned-statesman who as the leader of Saskatchewan’s Cooperative Commonwealth Federation established the framework for what would become Canada’s single-payer national health care system.

Douglas, who is often recalled as “the Greatest Canadian,” had a congenial style that belied his determination to address social and economic injustices he knew to be immoral. “The inescapable fact,” he argued, “is that when we build a society based on greed, selfishness, and ruthless competition, the fruits we can expect to reap are economic insecurity at home and international discord abroad.”

Paraphrasing Tennyson, he roused Canadians with a promise: “Courage, my friends; 'tis not too late to build a better world.” That line always came to mind when I was with Gene, who died Friday at 86.

Gene was an internationally renowned physician who finished a distinguished academic career as chair of the department of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin. But his great passion was as a “build a better world” campaigner.

With his beloved wife, Dr. Linda Farley, he devoted two decades of “retirement” to advancing a broad justice vision that — after Linda’s death in 2009 — has taken shape in the remarkable ecological and community-building work of the Linda & Gene Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability.

Because of their professional background, Gene and Linda focused particularly on advancing the cause of universal health care. With their longtime friend Dr. Quentin Young, they were prominent figures in the "Physicians for a National Health Program" movement, which for decades has sought “an expanded and improved version of Medicare (to) cover every American for all necessary medical care.”

Gene knew he was working in a time “when society is going toward selfish extremes … when (governments) pay anything to build up the military but don't want to give to the social good.” Still, he remained “fantastically optimistic.” And that optimism was often rewarded.

Though he warned that the Affordable Care Act, with its deference to insurance companies, was more complicated and costly than need be, he recognized it as a station on the road to a single-payer system. When we traveled in Canada together last month — with his dear friends Dr. Michael Klein and Bonnie Sherr Klein, and their daughter Naomi — we spoke a good deal about the difficulty of implementing what has come to be known as “Obamacare.”

Yet Gene recalled that Canada went through decades of bitter wrangling before finally establishing a universal health care system that delivers longer life expectancy more efficiently and at a lower cost than the American system. “We have to be patient, but we have to be determined,” he said, explaining that the establishment of the principle that “health care is a right” is not just a medical mission, not even an economic or social responsibility. It is, Gene said, “about morality.”

Canada came to recognize that morality, embracing the vision of Tommy Douglas.

And, yes, America will come to recognize that morality, embracing the vision of Gene Farley.

A memorial service for Dr. Farley will be held at 7 this evening at the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive.

John Nichols is the associate editor of The Capital Times, Wisconsin’s progressive newspaper. @NicholsUprising

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(11) comments


Although Dr. Gene Farley lived a full life, his life is still an "Unfinished Symphony". His work will be continued by those of us he has inspired. I'll miss his warm manner, easy smile, and firm handshake. He was a great man. It was an honor knowing him.
Dr. Timothy Shaw


I am so saddened to hear of Dr. Gene Farley's passing. I had just met him recently on the trip to Canada. I had several delightful conversations with him. The first was at dinner one night. We had shared many common beliefs and discussed health care issues and our own health problems. The last conversation we had as we parted at the end of the journey was my saying how I looked forward to seeing him on next year's trip. He replied: " Then maybe I really ought to go ahead and have the surgery that I have been putting off so that I can come next year." He was a wonderful man an I am sorry I will not have the opportunity to get to know him better.


Single Payer = The person that receives the health care service pays for it.


Until that person who most likely will have 'junk' insurance needs to go to the hospital and their insurance doesn't cover it. Then we all pay as the Hospital hikes up costs to pay for under-insured people.

Unless you have a plan in mind to verify that people actually have the minimum needed insurance to keep this from happening? Or is your solution just to not treat them? And that would be typical Compassionate Conservatism at it's truest....


LOL, Once who said "junk" insurance I knew your mind has been programmed by MSNBC. Go away trots and get yourself educated.


Haters gotta insult, no response to a valid point


That's a load of BS. Government programs paid for about three-fourths of uninsured peoples' health care costs that they didn't pay out of their own pockets. Your ObamaCare forces them to pay thousands of dollars for health insurance premiums, which are even higher than their average health care costs were! So, the taxpayers end up subsidizing the vast majority of those premiums (about 90%). And then the newly-insured are still expected to pay for co-pays, which amount to about 30-40% of their health care costs - which, strangely enough, is about the same proportion of their health care costs that they paid before they had insurance! Except that now, they'll have to pay their share of health insurance premiums as well. That proves it's nothing but a scam to pour money into the pockets of the health insurance companies.

Since you people never get it, I'll say it again: The uninsured don't have enough money to buy health insurance. And those who engineered the ACA have known it all along, that's why it all depends on gigantic government subsidies (and not on persuading healthy young people who are broke to sign up). And it would have been cheaper to simply expand the government programs that already paid most of their health care costs. The more money wasted on health insurance premiums, the less there is for actual health care. But you're probably an insurance salesman anyhow - that crap about "junk insurance" is straight out of the greedy mouth of some shill looking for a bigger commission for peddling a more expensive plan.


toobad. You obviously did not know Dr. Farley and his wife, Linda. They made this place a better world for all of us. Single payer to me is that all of us pay into a pot of money according to our ability to pay so that all of us will have access to affordable care. Who is it you think should not have this care? Please reread the article to gain a better perspective on Dr. Farley and how he worked tirelessly to benefit all of us.


You question gulfgg is irrelevant. I'm old enough to remember when health care functioned properly. Your pot of money analogy fails as all welfare state programs fail because they do not account for the government skimming operation. You should read Basic Economics by Dr. Thomas Sowell.


Haters gotta hate


Altho Gene and Linda gave it a good shot, there will probably never be a person so gentle, kind, and good-hearted that some right-winger can't use their death as an excuse to propagandize. "Too bad", indeed.

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