April 21st, 2021
War Resisters League is saddened to learn of the passing of our long-time member, Dr. Linnea Capps, MD, MPH. She will be dearly missed. We will be sharing reflections about her, starting with this one from Matt Meyer:
Dr. Linnea Capps, MD, MPH
June 19, 1950—April 19, 2021
Reflections by Matt Meyer
Written April 20th, 2021
It is with deep sadness (and some relief that she went without pain and is done with her worldly ordeals) that I have to report on the passing of Linnea Capps, an extraordinary spirit—a quiet and unassuming, humble yet persistent, absolute world-changing force. Linnea was a friend for forty years, and I write this now, with some photos collected through the years, to heal myself by reflecting on her beauty and strength and list some of the many accomplishments she was involved in. Thus, this is a personal as well as political remembrance to one of the most committed and true healers I have ever know, who also happened to be a medical doctor.
Linnea was born in Wichita, Kansas, growing up in Kansas, Iowa, and Missouri. She got interested in medicine while an undergraduate, graduating from medical school in 1977. But in that period, Linnea also got involved in progressive and leftist politics, eventually moving to New York City, to work in Harlem Hospital, and to take what was to be the first of many trips to Central America during an extremely tumultuous time in that region’s history. Along with fellow democratic socialist (and former husband) Patrick Lacefield, she travelled to El Salvador, visiting among other places Chalatenango, a “territory fighting popular victories” under the control of the guerilla movement Farabundo Marti Liberación Nacional (FMLN).
Back in the US, Linnea also got centrally involved in the work of secular nonviolence-oriented War Resisters League (WRL), taking part in one of their more headline-grabbing 1978 actions. While several key activists made their way to Red Square in Moscow at the height of the Cold War, others (including Linnea) entered the grounds of the White House, simultaneously calling on both super-powers to disarm and end the nuclear stockpiling which was endangering all life on earth. Not one for the headlines, however, Linnea was more focused on building organizations which would function and be sustained by people who themselves were empowered in the process. She became National Chair of WRL, serving after the fiery Norma Becker (who herself was one of the few leading women who rose to prominence as co-chair of the anti-Vietnam War Fifth Avenue Peace Parade, with “dean of the peace movement” AJ Muste). Linnea only left the position of WRL Chair, passing it along to 23-year-old me (the youngest in the organization’s now-100-year history), only because she felt driven to return to El Salvador for an extended time. Linnea lived there for two years, by 1987 setting up the first of many clinics around the world which would train thousands of grassroots medical practitioners, nurses, and emergency health aides.
In what can only be called “liberation medicine”—an offshoot of the widespread liberation theology sweeping the Americas and the world—Linnea became was a champion of both local practice and global operational coordination. Through Aesculapius International Medicine, which she helped lead, a practice of self-sustaining projects emerged which continue to this day to be models of cross-border solidarity. Eventually giving birth to the Doctors for Global Health (DGH), Linnea went on to found another clinic in Chiapas, Mexico, inspired as she was by the work of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN): the Zapatistas. As President of DGH, Linnea set up third clinic, in Uganda—the last of her global focal points. But she never refrained from returning to the US, working as a teacher and mentor, even going so far as to direct the Primary Care and Social Interest Medicine Residency Program of Einstein/Montiefiore Medical Center.
Throughout her life, Linnea remained committed to a balance between what to much of the world may have seemed like dichotomies: revolution and nonviolence, a local and global perspective, a quiet almost shy personality mixed with a stalwart and forceful drive to build powerful, resilient structures which would stand the test of time. Perhaps a photo she took some years ago in Zapatista-controlled land in southern Mexico best demonstrates Linnea’s passion, and how the whole of her worldview came together; A group of masked combatants, armed and with a stockpile of weapons apparently piled (but possibly discarded) to the side, are assembling under a tree with birds and books surrounding them. The commanding slogan painted by the Zapatista Army says it all: “Knowledge is Power.”
Official accounts may tell you that Linnea Capps was also the Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, in addition to working as Assistant Clinical Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She was the Associate Director of the Department of Medicine and director of the residency program at Harlem hospital, as well as an early leader of Harlem Hospital AIDS Health Treatment Group. Linnea was President of Doctors for Global Health, and was honored with many awards and citations, among them the prestigious American Public Health Association’s 2014 Edward G. Barsky Award.
But we should not forget that Linnea was a leader of the AJ Muste Memorial Institute, an avid ice skater (winning several tournaments in her day), a passionate gardener, an engaged bridge player, and a collector of dolls. She was a devoted partner to her cats, who gave her comfort in return. Many knew her in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn as a wonderful neighbor, serving as co-President with Meg Starr of the Park Place/Underhill Avenue Block Association—one of the oldest continuously operating neighborhood groups in NYC. She is survived by her loving sister, Phyllis, her brother and sister-in-law Bryan and Patsy, and so many throughout three continents who will wish we spent more time with this determined, loving shero. Understanding Linnea, for those who knew her as well as those who will only learn of her legacy, is about understanding gentle but indefatigable strength, wisdom without intellectual conceit or paternalism, radical solidarity borne of a love for the people which all revolutionaries must possess.
Viva Linnea Capps; Linnea Capps, Presente! You will be long remembered; you will be deeply missed.
- An interview with Linnea, archived at the National Library of Medicine’s Primary Care Physicians Interview Collection can be found here: https://oculus.nlm.nih.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=primcareoh;cc=primcareoh;rgn=main;view=text;idno=101166350-10
- An appreciation by WRL/AJ Muste Institute friend Wendy Schwartz is here: https://www.warresisters.org/wrl-activist-update-linnea-capps-md
- Einstein/Montifiore’s official announcement of Linnea’s APHA Award is here: https://einsteinmed.org/departments/family-social-medicine/news/linnea-capps-apha-award.aspx
- One of several DGH appreciations of Linnea is here: http://www.dghonline.org/files/story-attachments/DGH_Reporter_19-1_Spring2015.pdf
- More DGH material can be found here, including information on the book she and other DGH members contributed chapters to: Building Partnerships in the Americas: A Guide for Global Health Workers (Krasnoff, ed., 2013): https://www.dghonline.org/search/node/linnea%20capps