Ann Lourie Oral History


If you are having trouble viewing this content, please make sure your browser is up-to-date with at least Windows Internet Explorer 9 or the latest Firefox.
Gould, Deborah (Interviewer); CDC; Health Educator
Lourie, Ann (Interviewee); CDC; Wife of Epidemiologist
Ann Lourie, wife of Bernard Lourie, who served as an Epidemiologist in Chad. Ann speaks of adjusting to life in Chad, living abroad with 3 young children, and relates family adventures.



Gould, Deborah (Interviewer); CDC; Health Educator, “Ann Lourie Oral History,” The Global Health Chronicles, accessed March 27, 2017,

 Interview Transcript

This is an interview with Ann Lourie on July 13, 2006, at the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, about her involvement
with the West African Smallpox Eradication Project. The interview is being
conducted as part of a reunion marking the 40th anniversary of the launch
of the program. The interviewer is Deborah Gould.

Gould:      Would you describe your early life, where you were born and had
           your education through high school?
Lourie:     I was born on Long Island, Flushing, New York, and I lived
           there until I was 10. My father died when I was 10, and my
           mother remarried, and we lived in Connecticut for a while. I
           went to a boarding school for 3 years, from the 7th to the 9th
           grade Finally, we moved back to Scarsdale and White Plains, New
           York. I went to high school at Scarsdale High School, and I went
           to college.
Gould:      How did you and your husband become involved in the smallpox
           eradication effort?
Lourie:     Well, we got married in 1960 and we had 3 children  soon after,
           2 years apart and 18 months apart. My husband was in the Public
           Health Service after he finished his internship, and then he
           went back and got a Master's in Public Health at Johns Hopkins.
           Our children were 5, 3, and 2. We discussed that we would like
           to do something really exciting before our children got to
           school age. Being interested in public health, he just heard
           about the program with CDC at that time, and we both thought it
           would be a terrific idea to do this.
Gould:      I understand you lived in Chad. Is that correct?
Lourie:     Yes.
Gould:      Describe what it was like living in Chad with 3 small children.
Lourie:     Well, it wasn't that bad really. When we first got there, we
           were in an apartment on the 1st floor, and it was hard because
           it was very small and very cramped. And the main front door had
           a space about 2 inches between the floor and the bottom of the
           door, so in the evening all these frogs would come in under that
           door, and they'd be jumping all over the room. That was really
           my first unpleasent experience.
           But anyway, after a month or so, we got moved into other
           quarters. There were 2 houses in a compound, 1 with Russell
           Charter and his wife, and a very nice 1-floor rental house for
           us. It had a living room, dining room, 2 bedrooms, and a bath.
           We had a swimming pool between the 2 houses, so that was nice
           because I taught my kids how to swim. So, physically, it was not
           that bad.
Gould:      What about dealing with some of the cultural differences? The
           markets are so unlike the States, where we've got a Publix or a
           Kroger grocery store on every corner.
Lourie:     Well, we had a market. We lived in the capital, which was then
           called Fort Lamy and is now something else with an N, N'Djamena,
           I believe.  As far as I remember, there were no paved roads. The
           town was just 1 or 2 streets with little stores on both sides,
           and the marketplaces.
           One wonderful thing was that I had a cook and a houseboy who
           helped, so I didn't have to do laundry or cook. I did go
           shopping.for food. Occasionally, the cook would go shopping too.
           Culturally, we had a hard time at first. I started teaching
           English classes occasionally to adults, and so I needed someone
           to take care of my children. We had 1 houseboy, but I didn't
           want to give him that responsibility. So we hired this young
           girl to be a babysitter and take care of the children while I
           was gone, and she was there a few days. The kids always had
           their bath after dinner, and they were all bathed in the same
           tub. My 2-year-old was still in diapers at the time. So I went
           in to the bathroom for something. They were all in the tub. And
           she had taken the diaper and she was rinsing it out in the
           bathtub, . So, needless to say, she was fired, and I went on to
           the next.  She couldn't help it. . She just didn't know any
           But anyway, we got another houseboy named Bartolomey, really
           very cute, short, smart little guy, and he wound up helping the
           other man and also taking care of the kids, and we had him the
           whole time we were there.
Gould:      You said the children were 5, 3, and 2?
Lourie:     When we got there, yes.
Gould:      And you were there for how long?
Lourie:     Two years.
Gould:      What about schooling for the 5-year-old?
Lourie:     He went to the 1st grade in the French school in town. I taught
           the Calvert system at home, in English, for the 1st grade, so
           that when we went back to the States, he could go into the 2nd
           grade. So he had both the French school and the Calvert system
           at home. The other 2 children weren't old enough, so they didn't
           go to school or any other kind of pre-kindergarten or
Gould:      Did they learn the language?
Lourie:     Yes. They all could speak basic French, but two of them didn't
           remember it when we came back.  The oldest, who was 7 when we
           left, can speak fluent French to this day.
Gould:      That's wonderful. A good skill to have.
Lourie:     Yes.
Gould:      What was the toughest problem or problems that you faced?
Lourie:     I didn't really have any tough problems. Basically, I was
           living with servants whom  I'd never had before in my life.  You
           did  had to be very careful what you did with your food, that
           you washed everything well, that you peeled everything, that you
           didn't drink water. But there were no real problems.
                 We did go swimming and waterskiing in the Chari River.
           Now, when I talk about it, people say "You did that? You didn't
           get schistosomiasis?"  And I say, "No."  "When we went there,
           Dr. Pierre Ziegler was there, who was the French counterpart
           whom Bernie [Bernard Lourie] was working with.   He told us that
           since the water was swift moving, it would be alright.I was
           talking to Rafe Henderson [Ralph H. Henderson] last night, and
           he said that he was always in the water and loved the water, and
           he said, "Oh, it's just fine, and we did this all the time." And
            that's what we did on the weekends. That was our entertainment.
           We would go waterskiing and picnicking and swimming in the Chari
           River with the hippos.
Gould:      Oh, my goodness! I hear they were pretty vicious.
Lourie:     Yes, they can be dangerous. We were lucky, we really were.  I
           don't know what was wrong with me at the time. I didn't realize
           they could be dangerous.
      But physically, I didn't really have any hardships at home because I
           had a nice, comfortable house, and I took care of the kids and I
           was busy doing things with them and teaching them things. I
           would go out occasionally or play bridge with the gals about
           once a month. I was very happy. I had a wonderful time; my kids
           had a wonderful time. There were other American families.
           Russell and Sharon Charter were the only American families there
           from our CDC group. There were some ancillary workers, and we
           did socialize with them occasionally. And then there was Dr.
           Ziegler and his wife, who were French. We socialized with them a
           lot on weekends.
Gould:      So, during this time, was your husband out in the field most of
           the time?
Lourie:     Yes. He went out every day with a truck. Sometimes he would be
           gone for a couple of days. I can't remember any more how long
           exactly. It could have even been a week that they would go out
           for. So he would come and go.  I only wish that I could have
           gone, too.
Gould:      Yes.
Lourie:     That was my wish. I thought, "Oh, if I didn't have any
           children, I could go and be with him every day."
           When he was in town daily,    the day ended early. It ended
           about 2 o'clock. They'd come home, and we'd have our large meal
           in the afternoon, and that would be it. They would work from
           early morning, when he was in town, until around 2 in the
Gould:      How early in the morning?
Lourie:     Quite early, maybe 6 or 7 AM.
Gould:      Was that a French system?
Lourie:     I don't know. It was a French colony at the time, and that was
           just the schedule.
Gould:      Can you recall any unique experiences or occurrences that you
           had when you were there that you would like to tell us about?
Lourie:     Well, besides the frogs, 1 funny thing occurred when we were
           still in the apartment. We had one houseboy, and while I was
           gone he had taken our white sneakers and covered them with
           Elmer's glue and then set them out in the sun to dry because he
           thought that was polish. They were stiff as a board. That was a
           funny experience.
           And then another thing. . .We normally never let the children
           swim with anyone.but ourselves. But we wanted to be sure that if
           we left them and they happened to go near the pool, that
           Bartholomey would know how to swim and what to do. So we asked
           him, "Can you swim? Do you know how to swim?"
           He said, "Oh, yes, yes, I can swim."
           So we took him to the pool. We said, "Okay, show us how you can
           So he jumped in the pool and he almost drowned because he had no
           idea how to swim.  I guess he was afraid he might lose his job-
           or he just didn't want to say that he couldn't swim.
           Just before we left to go back home, we went to a game park with
           wild animals. I had never been out at all to see the animals. So
           we had the 3 kids, and I think we were in a little Volkswagen in
           this park, and it was just the driver and our family. Six of us.
            We got stuck in the mud sometime during the  afternoon, and we
           couldn't get out.  So we were there all night, sleeping in the
           car. My middle son had an earache, and he was crying most of the
           night. The next morning, everything had dried up and we were
           able to get out.
           We went back to the main place and we said, "Why didn't you send
           someone out to look for us?" They didn't even know we were out
           there. Noone at all knew we were gone. So that was a little
Gould:      Did you encounter any animals during the night?
Lourie:     No, we didn't. I didn't even get  out of the car. We were just
           huddled in there.
Gould:      They might have been curious and come up to it to find out what
           was in the car. That's amazing. It sounds like a wonderful
           adventure and opportunity.
           How did participating in the program, and being there, change
           your life?
Lourie:     I don't know really how it changed my life. I had traveled
           before I went to Africa. I'd been to Europe and I'd been to
           India, so it wasn't  a complete culture shock .. But I found the
           Africans to be extremely warm, extremely friendly. There weren't
           that many higher-ups in town, and I didn't really socialize with
           higher-up Africans. But all the people that we had working for
           us and just had daily contact with,  were just extremely nice,
           extremely open.
           I thought about the whole experience for a long time after we
           came back, and I thought it was wonderful for my children
           because they not only learned French, but they didn't have any
           prejudices at all when we came home-because in the '60s still-
Gould:      I hear you.
Lourie:     And so it was, I think, a good experience for them. And I
           remember it as being a wonderful time.
Gould:      What difference do you think it would have made if the spouses
           and children had not gone to Africa but had stayed home in the
           United States?
Lourie:     I think that would have been extremely hard, to be separated
           for 2 years. I don't think we would have gone if the program had
           said that I'd have to stay home. . That would have been too
Gould:           Do you think that would have had an impact on the program
at all?
Lourie:     I don't know. It would be hard to say. Probably. There
           certainly would have been many more singles.
Gould:           For that length of time, right.
           How did you prepare to go over? I mean, you were living in the
           United States, you had a home, you had a life here.
Lourie:     Well, we didn't have a home. We never owned a house 'til we
           came back from Africa. We were always renting. We rented a house
           in Baltimore, and then we came down here for the orientation.
      So we didn't have that many possessions, really, before we went over.
           We had a dog, though, a beagle, and we had to leave him behind.
           We weren't going to take a dog over to Africa. So that was hard
           for the children to separate from the dog. We'd had him about 2
           or 3 years. Other than that, we didn't prepare, really. We took
           clothes, and that was it. We hoped we were going to have an
Gould:      Wow. It sounds like you did.
           If you could do this all over again, is there anything that you
           would change?
Lourie:     No. I'm sure all the other countries were different. Each
           country that everybody went to was an entirely different
           experience. But, no, there wasn't anything that I would change,
           just that I would have loved to have gone out on the trucks and
           done what they were doing if I  had had no children..
Gould:      You mentioned that you were teaching English.
Lourie:     Yes.
Gould:      Could you tell me a little bit more about that?
Lourie:     I can't really remember it that well.. I was trying to remember
           the other day. There were 2 adults, fairly educated adults,
           probably  schooled in African schooling  and they spoke French.
           They held positions in town, and they just wanted to learn
           English. I think I taught them in the late afternoon and the
           evenings, and I did this for a couple of months. But I can't
           really remember the details of the class.     Gould:     Had you
           previously taught?
Lourie:     No, no. I worked for 4 years before we were married, in
           bacteriology, but I had never taught before.
Gould:      So you learned another field while you were there.
Lourie:     Mm-hmm.
Gould:      Is there anything else that you would like to add or any
           particular stories that you would like to tell us about?
Lourie:     I really can't think of anything in particular, just that it
           was a wonderful experience. My husband had a marvelous time. And
           we had fun, too. The family had fun. And as I said, a major
           attraction was going out on that river every weekend. My 5-year-
           old learned how to waterski. The other 2 didn't, but he did. And
           they all swam; they could all swim from the age of 2.
Gould:      Was that your last time in Africa?
Lourie:     Yes. I did not go back.
Gould:      Or your children?
Lourie:     No, my children haven't gone back to Africa.
Gould:      Thank you for this interview. You have made a contribution.

                                    # # #