Stan Brock, 1936–2018
The cowboy who became a health-care activist
At age 17, Stan Brock was working as a cowboy in the Amazon basin when he was thrown against a tree by a wild horse. Badly injured, the British-born teenager discovered that the nearest doctor was a 26-day trek away, so he stayed and recovered among the cattle-herding Wapishana Indians. The experience made him realize the importance of access to health care, and so three decades later, in 1985—after building a career as a TV adventurer and naturalist—he founded a nonprofit to bring medical expertise to isolated parts of the developing world. Remote Area Medical would work in Guyana, the Philippines, and elsewhere, but its focus soon shifted to the U.S., where RAM’s mobile medical and dental clinics have treated more than 1 million impoverished and uninsured Americans. “This organization was designed to parachute into the most God-awful places,” Brock said last year. “But [we’re] right here in the United States of America.”
Born in northern England, Brock left the U.K. at age 16 on a ship bound for British Guiana—now Guyana—“where his father, a civil servant, had been posted,” said The Daily Telegraph (U.K.). An old settler regaled him with tales of Amazon adventures on the voyage, and when the ship docked, Brock headed to the Brazilian border to become a cowboy. He spent the next 15 years working at a sprawling ranch, where he survived malaria, dengue fever, and a potentially flesh-eating bug. “It was inconvenient,” he said of the last. In the mid-1960s, his skills caught the attention of NBC and he was hired as a co-host of the network’s hit series Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. He was shown on screen lassoing buffalo and wrestling anacondas, said The Washington Post, “and was credited with discovering a new bat species that now bears his name.”
After starring in several dismal action movies, Brock “left Hollywood to found RAM,” said the Knoxville News Sentinel. From the charity’s headquarters in Rockford, Tenn., Brock organized dozens of clinics across the U.S. each year, where volunteer practitioners make prescription eyeglasses, pull teeth, and hunt for signs of black lung and cancer. Dedicated to his work, Brock slept on a mat at RAM headquarters and subsisted on a diet of fresh fruit, oats, and beans. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said in 2009.