THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dr. Robert Scott's Legacy Will Be Impossible to Fill

Last week, Oakland, the Bay Area and the world lost a giant of man with the passing of Dr. Robert Scott. In short, Scott was an humanitarian of the highest order.

Ask people who knew Dr. Scott, and they will be hard-pressed to convey in words the magnitude of his premature passing at age 65.

I say premature because even if Scott lived to be 125, his passing might still have been considered premature. Scott managed to serve two communities thousands of miles apart with the same love, compassion and dogged commitment.

Scott was an HIV/AIDS specialist as well as a tireless advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS in America as well as in Zimbabwe.

He was co-founder of the Allen Temple Baptist Church AIDS ministry in Oakland. But every church in the Bay Area that had an AIDS ministry knew Scott.

Under Scott's leadership, the Allen Temple AIDS ministry partnered with local congregation such as St. Benedicts in Oakland, Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian and City of Refuge in San Francisco to expand its ability to deliver much needed services.

Scott also traveled quarterly, largely at his own expense, to Zimbabwe to provide care to more than 600 clients in two clinics, clients who would otherwise have no one to serve them. He was also the physician for more than 200 children orphaned by AIDS and violence at the Mother of Peace Orphanage in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has a population of roughly 7 million with an additional 6 million Zimbabweans displaced largely in South Africa, the U.K., and the U.S. It has one of the world's highest levels of HIV infection; the official estimate is 25 percent

It is believed that up to 7,000 people die weekly in Zimbabwe from AIDS-related infections. Although, with a widely dispersed population and limited access to medical facilities. this figure may be considerably higher. In 10 years, life expectancy has dropped from an average of 75 to 36 for men and 32 for women. Estimates have Zimbabwe's orphan population at 1.5 million.

Zimbabwe is also a country that toils under the oppressive heat of economic and political chaos, under the miserable leadership of President Robert Mugabe.

This is the climate where Scott found himself providing lifesaving care to nearly thousands of patients in Zimbabwe, faithfully meeting the needs of society's "least of these." Moreover, all of the patients in Zimbabwe were treated free of charge through the efforts of the Allen Temple AIDS Ministry.

Former Director of Alameda County Public Health Department Arnold Perkins has seen the impact of Scott's work firsthand. Having made several sojourns with Scott to Zimbabwe, Perkins recalled one visit seeing people ravished by AIDS reduced to nothing but skin and bones. According to Perkins, the death sentence had already been given.

But on Perkins' next visit, he would find some of those same people healthy and full of life, thanks to the medications that Scott brought into that war-torn desolate area.

Born in Chicago, Scott earned his bachelor's degree at Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa, and master's degrees at the University of Illinois and the University of California, San Francisco.

He came to Oakland in 1969 as an instructor at Laney College. He completed an internship in medicine at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, in 1975, and a residency in internal medicine at Stanford.

Commonly logging 13-hour days, Scott's Oakland-based practice reportedly served more than 4,000 patients, more than 400 have the HIV virus.

Scott's amazing life leaves us to ponder a plethora of unanswerable questions. What did he possess that so many of us lack? Why would he use personal resources to cover travel cost for volunteers, medication and medical supplies? I can understand someone going to, say, Paris quarterly, but Zimbabwe?

It requires a commitment that few of us possess, so we must acknowledge when such rare people cross our path.

The natural reaction is to hope someone will come along to replace Scott. But that's impossible; his presence is irreplaceable. We can only hope that a number of people will heed the clarion call to serve by following in Scott's trailblazing path.

The manner in which I found out about Scott's passing adds in small way the impact he had on those who knew him. I was at afternoon worship service. I saw Scott's photo on the program and my immediate thought was: "What has Dr. Scott done now?"

I had no idea it was leaving a legacy impossible for one individual to fill.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist and blog-talk radio host. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him byron@byronspeaks.com or visit his Web site:byronspeaks.com