Address by Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, to staff of the WHO Regional Office for Europe

12 February 2010

Jo Eirik Asvall, Regional Director Emeritus, passed away on Wednesday, 10 February 2010. He had been ill for the last two years. His disease returned and he fought it as he had fought hard for good causes all his life.

In an e-mail to me some weeks ago, he said that he had 2–3 more months to live and asked me to make the best use of this time for the sake of WHO. WHO was his life, his world, his passion. He was Regional Director for 15 years and he was a true leader in European health policy and public health. The Region owes him a lot.

It meant everything to him to be with us two weeks ago and make his speech [at a reception honouring Dr Marc Danzon, now Regional Director Emeritus, and the start of my service as Regional Director]. What you did not know at that time, although he did, was that this was his last speech and public appearance, and he therefore wanted to give us all his message and bid us farewell. He was an extraordinary person and we must keep his memory and learn from him.

In my last e-mail to him, I told him that we had set up an office for regional directors emeritus in the same corridor where he used to have his office; it was waiting for him, and I hoped to see him there soon. I also wished him a quick recovery.

At that time he was already in hospital, in the intensive care unit, but his wife read out the message to him. He acknowledged it, and smiled – probably the last time people saw his famous smile on his face.

Jo, you will always stay with us in our memories. May you rest in peace.