ORBIS International faced the loss of its president and member of the board of directors, the Honorable Oliver Foot, on Feb. 6. Foot was 61 years old.
Foot’s dedication to reduce human suffering caused by blindness was reflected in his work with ORBIS, a nonprofit global development organization that transcends cultural, political and religious differences by bringing people together to save sight worldwide. He once said, “ORBIS is at the heart of what life is all about—promoting cooperation and understanding through serving others. What better way could there be to help heal our divided world?”
“There are no words I can write to adequately measure Oliver Foot’s immense contribution to the growth and mission of ORBIS international,” said ORBIS Chairman Al Ueltschi. “He touched the lives of so many with his enthusiasm, humor, friendship and spirit. He will always be fondly remembered for his humanitarianism, steadfast principles, vision, integrity, knowledge and understanding.”
Foot joined ORBIS as executive director in 1982 and was appointed president in 1987. He was a member of the ORBIS International Board of Directors, as well as the boards of ORBIS Canada and ORBIS Taiwan. He also served as chairman of the ORBIS Charitable Trust in the United Kingdom.
Active with ORBIS since its founding 25 years ago, Foot played a critical role in its development, fully devoting himself to its mission to eliminate avoidable blindness worldwide. He led the ORBIS team of volunteer doctors, nurses and aviators who flew to nearly 80 developing countries aboard the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital, a specially equipped aircraft with state-of-the-art ophthalmic surgical and training facilities.
Foot led fundraising efforts that raised more than $200 million in North America, the United Kingdom, the Middle East and Hong Kong to fund the humanitarian work of ORBIS. He often served as a catalyst, encouraging host governments and ministers of health to direct their influence to enhance and support national eye care services and policies in their countries. Under his leadership, ORBIS has been endorsed by 70 world leaders, including three secretaries-general of the United Nations and many heads of state, including President Ronald Reagan, President George H. W. Bush, President Bill Clinton, Emperor Akio Hito of Japan, President Fidel Castro of Cuba, King Fahad of Saudi Arabia, President Abdul Kalam of India, President Jiang Zemin of China and President Girma Wolde-Giorgis of Ethiopia.
“Oliver’s passing is of enormous import to ORBIS as an organization but also to a great many of us as individuals,” said Geoffrey Holland, ORBIS executive director and CEO. “He gave so much of himself and was such a kind and generous spirit that he was loved all over the world. He certainly meant a lot to me as a mentor, boss, friend and brother—and I cannot imagine feeling any loss more deeply. I hope that while mourning the loss of such a very special friend, we can all also celebrate his life and remember what a pleasure it has been to know him.”
Foot is survived by his wife, Gail; his two children, Mary-Rachel and Jesse; and three grandchildren.