Dr. Gene Farley, 86, one of the founders of the concept of family medicine, a champion for the cause of universal health care and the creator of the Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability in Verona, died Friday at Meriter Hospital.
“In my mind, he was a giant,” said Omie Baldwin, who chairs the board of the Farley Center. “He’s made an impact in so many different ways. I see him very much as a visionary and someone who was very focused on how to save the world. I’m going to sorely miss him.”
Farley was an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and served as chair of the Department of Family Medicine from 1982 until 1992.
“Gene is a hero in family medicine,” said Cindy Haq, UW professor of family medicine and population health sciences. “Our whole specialty of family medicine is in debt to Gene.
“He was a big proponent of looking after people not just as individuals but as people in the context of their family and their community. You couldn’t isolate people from all those other things and really know them and be a good doctor for them. That was how the idea for family medicine came up.”
Gene and Linda Farley, also an acclaimed physician and an assistant professor of family medicine at UW, practiced medicine in underserved areas from the Navajo Reservation in Arizona to inner city neighborhoods in Denver and Rochester, N.Y.
Haq said that largely because of the Farleys’ efforts there are more than 110,000 family doctors in the United States and a growing number around the world.
“That’s a big part of his legacy,” she said. “But oh my goodness, he’s so much more than that.”
As part of his commitment to health care, Farley became an outspoken advocate for universal health care and a single-payer system.
While he didn’t live to see that come to fruition, Haq said Farley saw the Affordable Care Act as a step in the right direction.
“But if it was up to Gene, we’d have Medicare for all,” Haq said. “We wouldn’t have the insurance companies all fighting over it and seeing how much money they could make off of it.”
After his wife’s death in 2009, Farley created the Linda and Gene Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability on their 43-acre property in the town of Springdale near Verona.
The center’s eclectic mission includes promoting social justice and sustainable, organic farming methods. It also is the site of the Natural Path Sanctuary, the first green cemetery in Dane County.
“Every leg of his journey he’s really contributed so much and inspired so many people,” said Susan Corrado, Farley Center facilitator. “He encouraged people to speak up and take action and to think in a hopeful and positive way.”
Haq said that Farley’s outlook on life was a big reason she came to UW in 1982.
“He had a way of attracting great people and making them feel even better and happy and kind of challenging them to move to the next level,” she said. “We have generations of hundreds of doctors in Wisconsin and around the world who trained under Gene and were inspired by him.”
Two weeks ago, Farley underwent surgery after having heart problems.
“But he didn’t let it slow him down,” Corrado said. “I couldn’t keep up with him. He still had things to accomplish.”
A memorial service for Farley will be held Sunday at 7 p.m. at the First Unitarian Landmark Auditorium, 900 University Bay Drive, Madison.