Profiles in Foster Courage: Dr. Claire Pomeroy

Clair Pomeroy (far left) with Bill Gates, Michael Bloomber and Melinda Gates (recipient of th 2013 Lasker Bloomberg Public Service Award)
Claire Pomeroy (far left) with Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg and Melinda Gates (recipient of the 2013 Lasker Bloomberg Public Service Award)

By Lin Weaver

This is the first in a series of radio interviews dedicated to extraordinary individuals whose early life was spent in foster care.

Years in foster care taught Dr. Claire Pomeroy that to understand pain is to work tirelessly towards changing the life of the most vulnerable among us.

Pomeroy is currently the president and the CEO of the Lasker Foundation in New York City.

She is responsible for overseeing the implementation of programs to advance the Foundation’s mission to “foster the prevention and treatment of disease and disability by honoring excellence in basic and clinical science, and through public education and research advocacy.”

Dr. Pomeroy is an expert in infectious diseases and a professor of internal medicine and microbiology and immunology.  She comes to the foundation from her position as dean of the University of California-Davis School of Medicine, CEO of the UC-Davis Health System, and vice chancellor for human health sciences at UC-Davis. As a clinician, Dr. Pomeroy is a long-time advocate for patients with HIV/AIDS.

I interviewed Pomeroy in her UC Davis Sacramento office in late May 2013.  My first impression of her was how gracious, poised and attractive she is; petite, with a warm, friendly smile.

“Where does her strength, her power of caring come from?”  I thought.

Her extraordinary life journey began one night when as a frightened 14-year old girl she fled an abusive home and found herself on the streets not knowing what to do or where to go. With what must have been overwhelming feelings of fear, separation and loss, Claire made her way into the foster system like millions of other children.

Staying at home would have been more frightening, with no chance for survival. Foster care was good to Claire, she was lucky. But this, of course, is not the case for every child and youth in the foster care system today.

The reasons that land children in the system and their experiences in it can cause a great deal of pain, but can also compel those individuals to be more resilient, driven by the will to overcome adversity, especially the will to understand and to care.

In her interview, Pomeroy shares with us some of the trauma she experienced when growing up without a family of her own, not to mention the hardships she lived through having to age out of the foster system when she was just seventeen.

What spurred her along was her dream of becoming a doctor, of being able to care for others, especially the extremely vulnerable and the neglected. It is no surprise when in the 1980s, as a young doctor, she chose to care for HIV/AIDS infected patients. At the time, there was no cure for the disease and everyone was terrified of becoming infected. As a result, it was customary for society at large and even for the families to abandon those patients where they died in isolation.

“I felt there was something special about the role of physicians and the way society places trust in them,” she says. “People go to doctors and tell them personal things about their life, the things they’re feeling and the things we hold dearest to ourselves.”  Claire felt honored to be a physician.

Years later, Pomeroy doesn’t treat patients anymore but she remembers, and as she holds her memories in her heart, she carries on, unwavering, ready to fight the next fight for a better world, ready to care, always.

Click here to listen to Weaver’s interview with Claire Pomeroy.

Lin Weaver is a media journalist and a radio and TV Producer. She is a trustee of the UC Davis Foundation and a Member of the College of Biological Sciences Advisory Council.

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2 Comments

  1. Hello Lin,

    A relative of mine who works with foster kids and gives workshops to social agencies dealing with them has offered this:

    Hey Karen,

    In case Lin is interested in working with a collaborator, I thought I’d offer a taste of the kinds of people I can connect her to. There are many others as well. Would you mind passing this information and my contact info on to her in case she’d like to talk further?

    Thanks!

    I hope the plugging away is going well!!

    xoxo,

    –Rob.

    A young man who was living in a box with his brother and sister and their mentally ill mother entered foster care when he saw a billboard designed to recruit foster parents. He called the 800 number on the billboard from a pay phone and said, “I’m eleven years old and I live in a box with my mother, my brother and my sister. I don’t think I’m supposed to live in a box.” After emancipating from foster care he went on to college and then to law school. Two years out of law school he was named the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyer of the Year. He now oversees a foundation with assets in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

    His sister, also homeless as a child and raised in foster care, earned a Masters of Social Work degree and is currently a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a supervisor with LA County Department of Children and Family Services. She is happily married with two children. She and her husband own several group homes supporting dozens of foster children throughout LA County.

    Their brother earned an MBA from Duke University and is now a successful banker living in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles with his wife.

    A young man was raised in foster care and enjoyed the support of a wonderful foster mother with whom he lived from age 12 until he emancipated. He earned a college degree at age 19 and then went on to earn a Masters of Social Work degree. He is now the manager of clinical quality improvement for a large university medical center.

    A young girl who was raised in foster care and who was adopted at age 12 wrote a best-selling memoir of her experiences in foster care. The memoir is currently being made into a movie with major Hollywood stars attached. She and her husband have one birth child and another adopted child and have fostered several other children. She enjoys a successful career as a public speaker spreading the word about the challenges facing foster youth and encouraging more adults to become involved in their lives.

    A man who was placed in foster care and who soon ran away from the revolving doors of uncaring foster placements became homeless at age 10. He lived on the streets until age 24 and saw the worst that humanity has to offer. After a long road of recovery and forgiveness, he wrote an award-winning memoir about his experiences as a street child. He is now the COO of a financial firm in San Francisco where he lives and where he supports his mother.

    A young man who was bounced around the foster system so much that he attended eleven different high schools still managed to go on to college. After graduating he was hired by a US Senator and moved to Washington, DC. He was soon hired as deputy policy director by a US Congressman (who was also a foster parent) and together, they traveled to China on US trade missions and were interviewed on national TV by Barbara Walters. He is currently completing a Masters in Political Science at Columbia and intends to pursue a career in politics.

    Rob Woronoff, MS
    Child Welfare Consultant
    Phone: 202.607.0615
    Email: robworonoff@hotmail.com
    Website: robworonoff.com

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