Joy Kaiser, who helped start and manage a medical philanthropy effort that helped address health-care injustices in apartheid South Africa and beyond by training and supplying thousands of Black physicians and other medical personnel, died Feb. 3 at her home in Palo Alto, Calif. She was 90.
The cause was complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, said a son, Paul Kaiser.
Kaiser was a Foreign Service spouse who accompanied her husband, Herbert Kaiser, on his assignments for more than three decades. During a posting in South Africa from 1969 to 1972, both were horrified in particular by apartheid's impact on health care.
Herbert Kaiser had been successfully treated for a potentially fatal malignant melanoma at a facility in Pretoria in 1971, but later said he had been haunted by the fact that "superb medical care available to whites" was largely unavailable to Black South Africans.
In a country of more than 20 million Blacks, he noted, there were 350 Black physicians, fewer than 120 Black pharmacists and fewer than 20 Black dentists as late as 1984. The next year, the Kaisers started their nonprofit Medical Education for South African Blacks.
By the time it closed in 2007, the organization had collected more than $27 million in gifts and grants to train more than 10,000 physicians, dentists, nurses and hospital technicians.
Their fundraising effort for South African medicine began as a seat-of-the-pants operation with cold calls to likely individuals and foundations. They had little or no office equipment and relied often on what then was a son's "home computer" to print out letters to prospective donors.
In 1989, a $100,000 donation from the Marjorie Kovler Institute for Black-Jewish Relations — a Jewish group that worked to support bonds between Black and Jewish Americans — proved a critical moment for MESAB and the start of a flood of corporate donations.
The Kaisers made numerous trips to South Africa and won support from South African President Nelson Mandela. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African cleric, wrote an introduction to their 2013 self-published book, "Against the Odds: Health & Hope in South Africa."
In a 2004 commencement address at her alma mater, Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College, Kaiser spoke of how she and her husband's commitment to helping South Africa grew from initial frustration.
"In 1969 apartheid South Africa was the last place in the world that we wanted to go, but the State Department gave us no choice," she said. "So we went — kicking and screaming but trying to keep in mind the Serbian proverb that we learned in Belgrade: 'What you have to do is easy.'
"I have always said that South Africa is parasitic. It gets under one's skin — it certainly got under ours. There were so many brave and wonderful people struggling at that time with such injustice. We could never forget South Africa so when Herb retired from the Foreign Service, we began to think about ways that outsiders could somehow help Black South Africans."
Joy Dana Sundgaard was born in Madison, Wis., on Aug. 6, 1930, and grew up in New Haven, Conn. Her father, Arnold, was a lyricist, librettist and playwright who wrote for opera and Broadway productions.
At Swarthmore, she met Herbert Kaiser, whom she married in 1949.