It is with great sadness that we heard of the passing of our friend, mentor and public health hero, Dr. Caleb Otto, former Ambassador from Palau to the United Nations.
Dr. Otto not only did not think we were crazy when we asked him to consider the idea to integrate the WHO FCTC in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), he actually took it on, and almost single handedly championed the inclusion of the WHO FCTC in the SDGs while also fighting for climate change, oceans, breast feeding, and other social justice issues. His efforts led to the inclusion of the initial drafts of the SDGs. But that was only the first step during these difficult negotiations. Dr. Otto, from the small pacific island of Palau, stood up to several large nations during the UN SDG negotiations that tried to remove the FCTC from the SDGs. His persistence, diplomatic skills and charisma allowed him to overcome the opposition and thanks to his tireless efforts the FCTC is now fully integrated in the SDGs under target 3.a.
Laurent Huber (ASH Executive Director): Dr. Otto was not only a respected diplomat, but he was also a truly kind heart. At the end of the WCTOH in Washington DC in 2006 we organized a big FCA celebration at my house. I had recruited the help of some of ASH’s interns as we had a large crowd of FCAers celebrating at my house. One of the interns started a conversation with Caleb who was wearing a smoke free Palau t shirt under his dress jacket. During the conversation the intern told Caleb “I love your shirt, I would love to get one of these”. Caleb’s response was, “well, we don’t have any more of them”, but he then proceeded to just take his shirt off and gave it to the intern, and then put his dress jacket back on. Caleb was the type of man who would literally take the shirt off his back for others. It has been a true honor to work with Caleb through FCTC, COP and SDG negotiations.
Shana Narula (former ASH Campaign Coordinator, current Advocacy and Policy Officer at World Heart Federation): My first encounter with Ambassador Otto was in 2013 in his NYC office. I was introduced to him via email and he gladly accepted to meet me, despite his incredibly busy schedule. He was only one person handling the great majority of the work for Palau at the UN. He would often be seen making a statement at one meeting and then in a flash, he would be on to the next to make his next statement. Amb. Otto was a force to be reckoned with. Being an ambassador, he was incredibly down to earth and easy to access, we often texted each other to keep each other up to date on the SDG negotiations. After we got to know each other during the course of the SDG campaign, we would often talk to each other about our families. He always told me that if I ever visited Palau with my family, we had a standing invitation at his home. Despite Palau having an extremely small team in NYC, he managed to make some of the biggest impact and steadfastly advocated for one of his greatest passions, NCDs. I will always be grateful to Amb. Otto for treating me with respect and warmth at the beginning of my career. He will always be a great role model for me.
Caleb, we will miss you dearly.