04/21/2012 02:21 pm ET | Updated Jun 21, 2012

Community and the Death of my Good Friend, Tersh Murdoch

Dedicated to Dr. Alfred Murdoch III (Tersh)

I was on I95 North, headed up to Yale to give a talk for Yale Hillel about the orphan crisis. It was a perfect day in all ways -- the trees dominated the landscape and the sky was perfectly blue with smears of ultra white clouds. I enjoyed some fresh air through a cracked car window and listened to NPR and some music.

The uneaten portion of my sandwich fell onto the mat on the passenger side while I was driving, so I pulled over to clean up the mess.

While parked, I decided to quickly check my email to make sure that I wasn't missing some crisis at work or a nice note from a friend. I read two emails and then, at the third, just stared with disbelief and confusion. My study buddy and dear friend from medical school was dead at 59. His wife, Elaine wrote me a kind and loving note informing me that Tersh (Dr. Alfred Murdoch III) had died on April 3rd of a sudden illness.

I sat and cried for a few minutes and then called Elaine. She recounted the story of his illness and I expressed my sadness and love for him. Tersh and I supported one another during a very challenging time. We were both older students -- in our early 30s -- in medical school, attempting the impossible. We began a four-year commitment to get through together. We cheered one another along, successfully graduated and went on to practice as we had dreamed of doing.

I drove on to New Haven and parked the car. I called a few friends to share the news and reminisce. All commented that 59 was not a fair age to die.

I entered Hillel eager to meet the Yale students to share my experience as a pediatrician and child advocate in far off places. I was so happy to be in a sunny room with Siddurs (prayer books) around me. I spoke a bit about my journey to become a doctor because there were a number of pre-medical students in the room. And then I addressed the complex issues of extreme poverty and how Worldwide Orphans Foundation addresses the needs of orphans in their communities. I emphasized that the work of life is in the community and has been since human beings first formed groups of families in clans and tribes. I made it clear that nothing has changed for human beings as far as what is needed to create good moral lives. Being Jewish is very important to me because it has taught me the value of community -- I learned that from my Rabbi, Harold I. Saperstein. I have continued to be passionate about all the communities that I have joined throughout my life.

The Hillel community at Yale is a powerful community. Thirty percent of the student body (5,300 students) are Jewish, so Hillel is a hub of life and connection. Imagine it without the trappings of rugs, chairs, desks, wooden paneling and high technology Wi-Fi and Hillel would be the same gathering place for Jewish students to renew friendship and learn about the world that existed thousands of years ago.

Questions were fun to answer at this gathering as you might imagine... smart young people eager to learn and optimistic about their future. When I was asked about how I felt about medicine, I became sentimental and tearful. I love medicine and feel that it has been a privilege to be a doctor. Regardless of the modern movement to remove the intimacy of medical practice, I have been able to maintain the old-fashioned elements of teamwork and partnership with the families in my practice. I think that the closeness I have felt in my medical practice is precious for me and for the families I help. Becoming a doctor and loving the community has been at the core of my work abroad, too.

And it is why Tersh, my medical school friend, went into family practice. He was passionate about patients and families and his dream was to serve. That is what drew us together in 1982 when we found one another in the first year at medical school in New Jersey. We were both established adults with families and professional security who had decided to reach for our dream to become doctors. Our study together made the dream possible. We created our sense of community and it lead to our success. Friendship and connection allowed us to cross the finish line on May 21, 1986. Nothing has changed for me. All of my work is about friendship and connection and that is what drives all that I do here at home and abroad.

The work of WWO is about community, and all international development work should be based on the simplest of formulas to help needy people rally within their community to hold strong and escape poverty and conflict.

I thank Tersh for inspiration and friendship, which will forever be part of me as I work until my last breath of life on this planet earth.