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April 23, 2020

Retired health-care exec pays tribute to Fauci

Photo | American Hero Novelty

A recently retired Connecticut health-care executive is writing a new chapter in the lionization of the leading figure in the nation’s life-and-death struggle with the coronavirus pandemic: Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Joanne Walsh of Milford has created a new nonprofit called American Hero Novelty to create and market T-shirts and coffee mugs emblazoned with the legend “Science First: I’m with Dr. Fauci.” They also (naturally) feature the face of the now universally known epidemiologist, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and co-star of daily briefings from the White House viewed by millions across the country and  globe.

Walsh herself is pretty well known in the Connecticut health-care community as longtime CEO of Visiting Nurses of South Central Connecticut in New Haven and later as CEO of Constellation Health Services in Norwalk. Walsh was also creator in 2001 of the statewide Nightingale Awards for Excellence in Nursing program, which has since developed into one of the largest nursing recognition programs in the country.

Walsh retired in January, just before the pandemic exploded, and said she felt "sidelined" and anxious but unable to help. As the crisis unfolded she began to think of ways to recognize the work of Fauci, whom she had admired since his leadership through the HIV epidemic of the 1980s when she headed the Visiting Nurse Association in New Haven.

And now, here he was again, at the side of the President leading the crusade against the global coronavirus pandemic. Walsh joined with millions of Americans watching the 79-year-old epidemiologist on TV during the daily afternoon COVID media briefings from the White House. “I was just thinking to myself, we are so lucky to have him — he’s such a national treasure,” Walsh said.

“So I just started thinking, wouldn’t it be great to do something to recognize him?” Walsh said. Talking to acquaintances and surfing Amazon she quickly discovered that she was not exactly the first person with the idea of turning Dr. Fauci into a product — be it a bobble-head doll or a plush toy.

“But most of those were political [in their message],” Walsh said — ”Dr. Fauci for President.’ I was thinking more in terms of Dr. Fauci as a scientist and leader in public health. I wanted to show gratitude to him for his ability to keep people focused and not panic.

“This is a public-health situation — it’s science,” Walsh added. “We might not have a cure or a vaccine for it right now, but we know what we need to do to protect ourselves and to limit the spread [of the disease] and keep moving forward.” Science first.

So she enlisted the help of a Milford neighbor, graphic designer Hans Gschliesser, who designed the T-shirt and coffee mug, which respectively sell for $17.99 and $16.99 on the website Walsh said she processed about $1,000 in orders in the first 24 hours after the website went live last Friday.

Walsh said the new enterprise plans to donate 100% of the profits from sales of the T-shirts and mugs to “a charity of Dr. Fauci’s choice.” What that may be she doesn’t know yet, but she plans to speak with him about that in due time.

He’s a little busy right now.

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