Boca Raton Observer APR2017

Page 81

Felicia Knaul

University of Miami, Miami

UM’s first lady, Dr. Knaul, is a citizen of the world. She was born in Canada to a Polish father and a British mother, holds both British and Canadian passports, keeps a home in Mexico and lives primarily in Miami. She has worked for health reform in Colombia and Mexico and has held senior governmental posts in both countries in addition to working for the World Health Organization, the World Bank and UNICEF. She met her husband, who had served as the Mexican secretary of health, when he came to Colombia to work on health reform. “We decided to begin a relationship based on our cooperative work, which is the only way to be married to someone like Dr. Frenk, because he works a lot,” she says. “It’s challenging sometimes, but it has been a very interesting life.” At UM, she is a triple threat, serving as first lady, a professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences and the director of the Miami Institute for the Americas. A breast cancer survivor, Dr. Knaul is the author of “Beauty Without The Breast” and sees herself as both a researcher and an advocate for better health care for underprivileged populations. “I’m particularly concerned about the defense of human rights, and I come to that as the child of a Holocaust survivor,” she says. “That’s what drives a lot of what I have dedicated my life to in developing countries and populations in extremely difficult circumstances.”

She is also involved in fighting climate change; discrimination by gender, race, place of origin or refugee status; and, especially, inequities in the availability of medical care. When it comes to being first lady, Dr. Knaul struggles with the title a bit. “We are still looking for another word, although I wouldn’t want to not be called a lady,” she jokes. “What is the job description of a first spouse? You don’t have a series of indicators of performance that are explicit. One should have a way to know if you’ve done it well or you haven’t and some training or coaching. It is wonderful in some senses but also tough in others. I am not comfortable being just ceremonial.” After Dr. Frenk became president, Dr. Knaul moved from Harvard, where she earned a Ph.D. in economics, to Miami, which she finds intriguing. “Miami is a city on the upswing – a city that is growing and becoming a truly world-class environment,” she says. “It is very engaging and inspiring to be in a city that is living that process. It is really pivotal to Latin America and also to the Caribbean, which makes it a terrific place to work.” The mother of two daughters – Hannah, 20, and Mariana, 12 – also delights in the way that being first lady takes her away from a singular focus on professional endeavors to working on a wide range of issues. “That’s my brain candy, and it is extremely fulfilling,” she says. “Busy is good.” O

I’m concerned about the defense of human rights, and I come to that as the child of a Holocaust survivor. That’s what drives a lot of what I have dedicated my life to. – Felicia Knaul

APRIL 2017


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