Ladinsky Memorial Fund receives gift, launches lecture

The Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently received a $360,000 gift to the Judith L. Ladinsky Memorial Fund, which honors Ladinsky, professor of Population Health Sciences and long-time head of the U.S. Committee for Scientific Cooperation with Vietnam (USCSCV).

The recent gift came from the estate of Dr. Nina Byers, a theoretical physicist at UCLA and sister of Ladinsky. Interest earned from the endowment will support Vietnamese language instruction, scholarships for students focused on study of Vietnam, and the new annual Judith L. Ladinsky Lecture.

The first Ladinsky Lecture, “The Contested Afterlives of Ho Chi Minh,” by renowned Harvard historian Hue-Tam Ho Tai, will be held Friday, September 4, in 206 Ingraham Hall. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Over the course of her long career, Ladinsky overcame political and bureaucratic obstacles in her efforts to improve health conditions in Vietnam U.S. Ambassador Pete Peterson described her as America’s real “first ambassador” to Vietnam.

Judith Ladinsky
Judith Ladinsky

She began her career conducting groundbreaking research in cell biology, and later working to improve access to preventive medicine in rural Wisconsin.

She received her Ph.D. in reproductive physiology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1968, and, seven years later, joined the faculty of the university’s Department of Population Health Sciences, where she taught for more than 30 years.

She also served as director of the Office of International Health and was affiliated with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies. She mentored dozens of graduate and medical students, helping many to secure International Health rotations to give them firsthand experience in global health.

Ladinsky first visited Vietnam in 1978, long before the U.S. and Vietnam had established diplomatic relations, and quickly developed a deep connection to the country.

In 1980, she became the head of the Health Committee of the U.S. Committee for Scientific Cooperation with Vietnam (USCSCV). In 1984, the USCSCV chair, Dr. Edward Cooperman, was murdered, so she took on his position.

Ladinsky, who died 2012, made more than 112 visits to Vietnam, circumventing an international embargo to deliver tons of medical supplies, books and journals, while teaching and training thousands of village health workers.

Colleague Elizabeth Kemf described Ladinsky as “a facilitator and a caregiver personified,” who donated “her own life savings to ensure that children got medical care not available yet in Vietnam, and that the Vietnamese obtained the technology, training and equipment to take care of themselves.”

Noting Ladinsky’s range of contributions to health, disabilities, education, gender, HIV awareness, and the continuing legacy of Agent Orange, Vern Weitzel, chair of the Australian Committee for Scientific Cooperation with Viet Nam (AVSL), added, “In other words, she was just about everywhere.”

In a eulogy for Ladinsky in 2012, Vietnam’s Minister of Science and Technology Nguyen Ouan said: “Many Vietnamese people love her and call her lovingly ‘Madame Vietnam.’”

He praised “her undaunted efforts and extraordinary medical service to Vietnam,” and then noted the many honors she received both in Vietnam and in the United States, including the Friendship Medal, awarded by President Tran Duc Luong in 1999.

In addition to four other medals from the Vietnamese government, she was named Peacemaker of the Year in 2011 by the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice.