Help the World See: Chip Rosenfeld

It was another half-marathon, this one called Applefest near Nashua, New Hampshire, for a joyously experienced 27 year old runner, Arthur “Chip” Rosenfeld, III. The leaves were turning that Saturday, October 8, 1994, and he was running with friends, one of them a cardiologist.

“How are ya’ feeling,” he asked one runner-pal. “Fine,” was the reply, “how are you feeling.” “Not all that good,” he said, just before he kneeled over and stopped breathing. The cardiologist tried to revive him, but a fatal arrhythmia took his life.

The heartbeats of justice around the world lost a young leader that day in New Hampshire. For “Chip” Rosenfeld was no ordinary first year Harvard Business School student. After graduating from Haverford College in 1989, he help found and became the executive director of Help the World See (HTWS) — a non-profit association dedicated to opening eye clinics in the Third World, where 1.5 billion adults and children need eyeglasses they cannot afford, where millions are suffering from serious eye diseases and do not receive treatment.

HTWS has more than a single dimensional vision. Yes, it ships millions of used eyeglasses from the United States and recycles them for use in HTWS clinics overseas. Yes, it organizes free eye clinics in these countries for primary care. But it also is perfecting an organizational model for permanent, self-sustaining clinics with trained local health care workers.

Like an angelic magnet, HTWS draws on existing volunteer and charitable resources, such as optometrists and Lions Clubs; elicits foundation grants and help from international agencies such as the Pan American Health Organization.

In the early Nineties, the driving force behind this networking, this perceptive motivation to help the world see, including those in need in our country, was Chip Rosenfeld.

His parents understood his indirect, low key, humorous ways which got things done, that turned indifference or powerlessness into activity that solved problems. They set the pace themselves of excellence and focus on human needs. His father, Arthur Rosenfeld, Jr., a first class physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, launched a good part of the energy efficiency movement in the U.S. through the work he and his colleagues have done for the past fifteen years. His mother, Roslyn Rosenfeld, is an attorney who practices as if people mattered.

The flavor of their son’s approach is seen by an observation that his friend and successor as executive director of HTWS, Jeffrey Orenstein, conveyed to the Harvard Business School newspaper: “Chip had this rallying cry each time we would head off to a new country for the establishment of a clinic. ‘OK people. We’re going to heaven.’ To Chip, the opportunity to provide vision to people who had been nearly blind their entire lives was a tremendous reward; like going to a place where good is about to happen.”

Chip was about to turn his critical attention to business school education with that same purposeful yet easygoing style that was his trademark, that made him be seen as a leader by so many of his peers.

The weeks after his passing were marked by a remarkable turnout of sorrow, reflection and a wanting to do something to continue his legacy. The dean of the business school joined many of his classmates in this endeavor, announcing a $150,000 fund in his memory to be used as a creative, perhaps an appleseed, perpetuation of what he would have done had his years not been so abruptly cut short.

In a heartfelt tribute at Chip’s memorial service, one of his professors, Arthur Applebaum, said: “When one thinks of what he might have done over the decades, there is a great loss in this world. There is a lot of work in this world that will not get done because Chip isn’t here to do it. Chip was going to do it; now we all have to.”

The professor was talking of legacy — a human being’s finest tribute. Soon, his parents, sisters and classmates will shape Chip’s impact on the future. For now, citizens interested in learning more about Chip’s first of what would have been many civic initiatives can write to Help the World See, 34 West Spain Street, Sonoma, California 95476.

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