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Donald P. Francis is an American epidemiologist who worked on the Ebola outbreak in Africa in the late 1970s, and researched HIV and AIDS. He retired from the U.S. Public Health Service in 1992, after 21 years of service. According to Francis, the White House (then under the administration of George H.W. Bush) wanted him fired, but in order to avoid controversy he quietly “retired”.

In 1993, HBO produced And The Band Played On, an Emmy-winning movie about the AIDS crisis based on the 1987 book of the same name by San Francisco Chronicle journalist Randy Shilts.  Actor Matthew Modine played Francis.


Francis recalls his early days of standing up to authority at Redwood…

“My ability to stand strong and often alone against adversity has its roots with my parents. At dinner one night in our comfortable house in Marin County, California, I made a joke about attempts of Governor Orvil Faubus of Arkansas to maintain segregation of blacks. In 1959 the Federal government was taking on states like Arkansas which wanted to maintain the “separate-but-equal” stance of the segregationist’s schools. Governor Faubus had made a national plea to send money to him so he and his white supremacists could withstand the force of the Federal authorities.

In cynical jest, I suggested that we all send money – Confederate money.


Don Francis Redwood yearbook photo

My parents laughed at the joke, but wouldn’t let it drop. My father suggested I call Herb Caen, a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and tell him about my idea. At lunch break the next day, I went to the telephone booth in front of the gymnasium at Redwood High School and called him with my idea.

That Sunday, my plea to send Confederate money to the segregation’s was the lead paragraph in his column and soon I was on the front page of papers around the country. Considering the value of the true Confederate dollars, I adjusted my plea to send imitation Confederate bills – and they, arrived by the pound.”  — from “A VOICE FOR THE PUBLIC’S HEALTH” by Donald P. Francis, M.D., D.Sc.


More about Don Francis coming soon….


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Actor Matthew Modine portrayed Don Francis in HBO’s “And The Band Played On.”

Did you grow up with Don Francis?  Share your memories below…

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