Past RI Vice President Bill Sergeant dies
The World Health Organization honored Bill Sergeant (center) with a special citation at the World Health Assembly in 2006, presented by Dr. Bruce Aylward (left), director of the GPEI, and Dr. David Heymann. Photo courtesy of WHO
William T. Sergeant, who served as RI vice president in 1981-82 and as chair of the International PolioPlus Committee (IPPC) for 12 years, died 13 February in Knoxville, Tennessee, USA. He was 91.
Sergeant chaired the IPPC from 1994 to 2006. During his tenure, he provided direction to regional and national PolioPlus committees, and worked with the spearheading partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) to help establish strategies and policies for ending the disease.
He joined the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in 1947. He also served Rotary as an RI director, Rotary Foundation trustee, chair of the Council on Legislation (twice), and district governor.
“Bill Sergeant was a Rotary icon!” said RI President Ray Klinginsmith. “His intelligence and persistence placed him at the highest level of Rotary leadership, and he was one of our most popular leaders. His knowledge of the Council on Legislation meetings and the Rotary constitutional documents was unrivaled, and it was my pleasure to work with him on many legislative committees.”
Leader in polio eradication
Sergeant received recognition for his outstanding work as a leader in polio eradication from the other major partners of the GPEI. He was also was the recipient of the first Hannah Neil World of Children Award (1998) from the Kellogg Corporation and the Fries Prize for Improving Health (2006).
“Bill’s leadership as chairman of the International PolioPlus Committee earned the respect and admiration of Rotarians around the world as well as the officers of our partners, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Klinginsmith said. “It was the studious and tireless efforts of Bill Sergeant that earned Rotary the allegiance of our partners and that kept Rotary at the forefront as the catalyst and chief advocate for the global polio eradication campaign. A truly outstanding citizen of the world!”
The GPEI called Sergeant “a towering force and a legend in polio eradication,” according to a statement released on 16 February.
“When the world is finally declared to be polio-free, no one will have played a more crucial role than Bill Sergeant,” said Dr. Bruce Aylward, director of the GPEI. “Bill’s genius and guidance were absolutely central to the growth [of the GPEI] from a small and often fragmented effort into the global initiative that now reaches into every corner of the world, every village, and every household so that children everywhere are protected against this awful disease, irrespective of geography, culture, or conflict.”
Compassion and perseverance characterized Sergeant’s pursuit of a polio-free world. With the incidence of the disease reduced by 99 percent, the greatest obstacle to eradication, he said, “is not from the virus itself. It’s from people that might get discouraged. We must keep in mind how successful we have been, and there is no reason whatsoever why we cannot finish the work.”
Dr. Robert Scott, who succeeded Sergeant as IPPC chair in 2006, has a special place in his heart for his predecessor.
“Bill Sergeant will always be remembered for his extraordinary efforts toward the eradication of polio,” Scott said. “However, on a personal note, for more than 24 years he was an adviser and friend whom I called ‘my father in Rotary’ and who was still giving me advice two weeks ago. I will truly miss him.”
Sergeant served in the U.S. Army during World War II and the Korean War, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. For many years, he was in charge of local security for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Oak Ridge. He retired as director of nuclear safeguards and security of the U.S. Department of Energy-Oak Ridge Operations in 1979.
Sergeant was preceded in death by his first wife of 34 years, Isabelle Morrison Sergeant (1981), and his second wife of 20 years, Carolyn Bolling Wilson Sergeant (2004).
He is survived by four children from his marriage to Isabelle: son David Sergeant and daughters Kathy Sergeant, Patty Daughtrey, and Barbara Hood; seven grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
Funeral services were held 18 February in Knoxville. Condolences may be sent to the family at 8749 Belle Mina Way, Knoxville, TN 37923, USA.