Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Viola Fisher



Honored November, 1992

Viola Fisher

Think globally, act locally is sound advice. The reverse is valid too; it's just more difficult to manage. Viola Fisher has done it all. As a UN public health nutritionist she combated hunger across the globe. In Santa Fe, she's done great things for her Cerro Gordo neighborhood.

She grew up on a farm outside Post Falls, Idaho. When her parents bought the place, "the cash crop was Delicious apples. Later my father raised sweet Spanish onions. My mother had a route where she would sell fruits, vegetables and eggs.

She attended a "little country two-room grade school a half mile from the house. High school was in Post Falls—three and a half miles if you followed the railroad tracks—if we walked, it was four." At the University of Idaho in Moscow she majored in dietetics.

Work as a hospital dietician left her dissatisfied. "So often, you see a patient, and then they leave. I became very interested in how you prevent illness. I decided to go into public health." The war intervened. She served at military bases in several states, then earned a master's in public health nutrition at Columbia University.

In 1955 she went to Shiraz, Iran to "set up the dietary department" in a brand new hospital. The Shah and Queen Soraya attended opening ceremonies.

Blindness caused by severe vitamin A deficiency, and kwashiorkor—children's failure to thrive due to lack of proteins—were the conditions Viola discovered in east Africa in the early 1960s. The only non-African on a UN/ FAO team, she raised the alarm with key government officials from Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania and Sierra Leone. The Tanzanians offered her a job, but by then she was committed to a survey of food consumption in India's villages, phase one of an FAO/UNICEF effort to rescue children from malnutrition and hunger.

Please see Volume 1 for complete text.
Photo ©1997 by Joanne Rijmes