Walt and Mabel Dowdle Leave a Lasting Legacy in Honor of Dr. Louise Martin

Walter Dowdle, PhD, Hon. Epidemic Intelligence Service '91, and his wife Mabel Dowdle, are both and long-time donors to the CDC Foundation and members of the CDC Foundation's legacy society, the Healthy Futures Society.

Walt retired at 82, after a long and distinguished career in public health that included leadership roles with the Task Force for Global Health, World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the John Curtin School for Medical Research, The Australian National University.

Walt and Mabel have been married since 1953 and have three children, six grandchildren and five great grandchildren. The two came from families that were very close. The two believe that family is the glue that brings everything together—"it certainly is nice if your families get along and you all enjoy each other's company," they shared. This, along with support from their families, "has made life very, very enjoyable for us."

The Dowdles choose to give to the CDC Foundation as a way of upholding the memory of Louise Martin, a woman who, in their words, "was a very talented and caring individual, a model human being and coworker." Louise was a veterinarian and epidemiologist who was on administrative leave from CDC to accompany her three children and husband Doug Klaucke on his CDC polio eradication assignment in East Africa. Walt hired her to join the Task Force Malaria Team in Nairobi. On August 7, 1998, just months after Louise began work with the Task Force, she was killed in the terrorist bombing of the American Embassy in Kenya.

Dr. Louise Martin examines a map as part of the 1997 investigation into Rift Valley Fever in northern Kenya.

Dr. Louise Martin with her three children.

Dr. Louise Martin greets a giraffe while working at an animal orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya.

This sudden and tragic loss to Louise's family and the public health community led to an outpouring of contributions in her memory from her friends, family and colleagues. In 1999, the Dowdles' leadership and financial support were instrumental in the establishment of the Louise Martin, DVM, MPH, EIS '85 Endowed Memorial Scholarship. The Louise Martin Scholarship provides secondary educational opportunities for disadvantaged girls in Kenya, a deep passion of Louise's. Every year, 15 Kenyan girls receive free tuition at Starehe Girls' Centre. These scholarships make an enormous difference in their lives. In our conversation, Walt admits that he is not entirely sure Louise would have been comfortable being the namesake of the program, describing her as modest, the kind of person who just saw things that needed to be done and did them without fanfare. During her life, she volunteered her time and expertise as a veterinarian at the animal orphanage outside of Nairobi.

The Dowdles feel that their response befits the kind of person Louise had been, and that it should last in perpetuity. Their giving is in honor of those that died in the bombing attack and directly benefits the people of Kenya. They are incredibly proud to be associated with the Starehe Girls' Centre in Nairobi and to be able to give in support of the scholarships.

In addition to annual gifts to support the endowment over more than 21 years, Walt donated his $60,000 prize money when he won the Fries Prize for Improving Health in 2010. He received the prize for his "extraordinary and continuing leadership and scientific achievement to help prevent millions of cases of disease and death from HIV/AIDS, influenza, and polio." His prize money was used as a challenge grant to raise additional funds for the endowed scholarship.

The grounds of the Starehe Girls School in the Kiambu District of Kenya, where several girls who attend have their fees provided through the CDC Foundation's Louise Martin Scholarship.

The Dowdles (center back) with students at the Starehe Girls' Centre in Kenya.

Louise Martin Scholarship winner Alvia Shikali sits with fellow winner Elizabeth Okerio in a lab at the Starehe Girls School outside Nairobi.

More recently, Walt and Mabel made a generous gift for a 2018 fundraising campaign in honor of the 20th anniversary of Louise's passing. With a lead matching gift of $20,000 from the Dowdles, a total of $46,250 was raised for the endowed scholarship, which enabled the increase in the number of scholarships from six to 10 each year. Only four years later, in 2022, the Louise Martin Scholarship was able to increase its annual support to scholarships for 15 girls. The CDC Foundation’s stewardship of this endowed fund ensures that the number of scholarships awarded will hold steady or increase into the future.

"The Dowdles' giving seems to have no bounds and their passion and support for the Louise Martin Scholarship is contagious,” said CDC Foundation President and CEO Dr. Judy Monroe. “They are making a tremendous impact on the lives of girls who benefit from the scholarships and on the country of Kenya."

In addition to their committed and generous annual support, Walt and Mabel have made provisions for the endowed scholarship in their estate plans, hoping to honor Louise and the others who lost their lives in the Kenyan embassy bombing. Walt and Mabel see these life-changing scholarships as their response to the senseless act of the terrorist bombing, a way of balancing the scales that they feel anyone can do. Growing the scholarship fund is their dream, and while they hope to continue increasing the number of scholarships awarded each year, even one scholarship is truly meaningful for a young woman in Kenya. Walt and Mabel’s estate plans include the Louise Martin Fund as a beneficiary, a profound legacy that will support the scholarships into perpetuity. They ask: "What better lasting contribution could you make?"

Elizabeth Okerio, winner of the Louise Martin Scholarship at the Starehe Girls School in the Kiambu District of Kenya, is presented with a certificate by Denise Johnson, Deputy Director for Management and Operations of the CDC in Kenya.

Students on the grounds of the Starehe Girls' Centre.

Anne Chege, who attends the competitive Starehe Girls School thanks to the Louise Martin Scholarship, is studying agro-business, and has an interest in medicine. She plans to help her community of Kiriaini in Kenya's Central Province.

The CDC Foundation has tools for you to explore if you wish to leave the impact of a lifetime and become a member of the Healthy Futures Society. You can always reach out to Helene Erenberg (tel: 404.443.1139), Director of Major Gifts and Individual Support, with any additional questions about supporting the CDC Foundation.

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