Wall named inaugural Selina Okin Kim Conner Professor in Arts & Sciences

Lewis Wall speaks at installation ceremony
Wall delivers remarks at his installation as the Selina Okin Kim Conner Professor in Arts & Sciences in Holmes Lounge Oct. 21. (Photo: Mary Butkus/Washington University )

L. Lewis Wall, MD, DPhil, has been named the inaugural Selina Okin Kim Conner Professor in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. He was installed Oct. 21.

Wall is also professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

His research interests focus on clinical, social and ethical aspects of women’s health from contemporary as well as historical perspectives, with particular interest in the social and clinical problems associated with maternal birth trauma in developing countries. He has been involved in a variety of clinical projects in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and Niger.

The Selina Okin Kim Conner Professorship in Arts & Sciences is made possible by a gift from Washington University graduate and trustee David Conner in honor of his late wife.

“Given his important work on health issues facing women in developing countries, Lewis Wall is the perfect choice for a professorship honoring Selina Okin Kim Conner, the daughter of a physician who worked as a public health specialist with the World Health Organization,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “I am so grateful to David Conner for establishing this professorship and am delighted to award it to a highly regarded scholar whose work is a fitting tribute to the memory of Selina.”

Wall earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and history from the University of Kansas, and went on to study social anthropology as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. He carried out field research among the Hausa people of northern Nigeria as a Fulbright-Hayes Fellow, earning his doctorate in social anthropology from Oxford in 1983. His book “Hausa Medicine: Illness and Well-Being in a West African Culture” was published by Duke University Press in 1988.

Wall earned his medical degree from the University of Kansas School of Medicine and completed his residency training in obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University Medical Center. He also earned a master’s degree in bioethics from the Center for Human Bioethics at Monash University in Australia.

Working to improve health of African women

Wall has a longstanding interest in women’s health in Africa. He founded the Worldwide Fistula Fund in 1995, a nonprofit public charity dedicated to providing care for women who have developed obstetric fistulas from prolonged obstructed labor. He serves as the president of Hamlin Fistula USA, the American trust supporting the work of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, which operates a fistula hospital, rehabilitation center and five satellite fistula hospitals in Ethiopia.

In 2014, Wall served as a Fulbright Scholar at a hospital in Ethiopia, where he carried out research, taught courses and laid the groundwork for the creation of a sub-specialty fellowship training program in urogynecology in Ethiopia.

While in Mekelle, Wall and his wife, Helen, founded Dignity Period, a nonprofit organization partnered with Mekelle University and the Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory to produce and distribute menstrual hygiene products to adolescent girls in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, where lack of access to such products can be a barrier to finishing school. In 2014, Mekelle University awarded him the University Gold Medal for meritorious service to medical education.

Wall is the author or co-author of two books, 24 book chapters, and more than 90 peer-reviewed scientific papers. His forthcoming book, “Tears for My Sisters: The Unknown Tragedy of Obstetric Fistula,” will be published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

His current projects include development of a fellowship training program in urogynecology in Ethiopia; ethnographic research on menstrual beliefs, attitudes and practices in the Tigray region; and various related clinical projects on women’s health. A certified teacher of compassion cultivation, he is developing a course on “The Anthropology of Compassion.”

“David Conner’s generous gift for this professorship and Wall’s installation as its inaugural holder spotlights an already strong focus on medical anthropology and global health issues in the university’s Department of Anthropology,” said Barbara Schaal, PhD, dean of the faculty and the Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences.

“Lewis is an extraordinary scholar in that he balances the humanistic and rich practice of anthropology with an incredibly strong clinical background as a physician, but what really sets him apart is his remarkable energy and drive as a true humanitarian,” Schaal said. “His scholarship and clinical work are all devoted to making the world a better place, and I deeply appreciate this professorship that will help to further his efforts.”

About David and Selina Okin Kim Conner

David P. Conner is an international businessman in banking who has been hailed as one of the best CEOs in Asia and a driver of economic development in Singapore. He also is a committed philanthropist, alumnus and leader for Washington University.

Conner earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Washington University in 1974 and an MBA from Columbia University in 1976. He has extensive banking experience in the Asia Pacific, including 26 years with CitiBank.

He became CEO of the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) in 2002, and led an international expansion program that more than doubled the bank’s market capitalization, helping it become the second largest bank in Singapore. In 2011, he was named Outstanding CEO of the Year at the Singapore Business Awards.

Conner stepped down as CEO of OCBC in 2012 and left the company’s board of directors in 2014, ending his 38-year career in international banking. He now resides in St. Louis with his wife, Paulina, and remains active in many leadership roles at Washington University.

Conner is a member of Washington University’s Board of Trustees, where he chairs the Global Engagement Committee and serves on the Audit Committee and the Medical Finance Committee. He also chairs the university’s International Advisory Council for Asia and serves on the national councils for the School of Medicine and the Institute for Public Health. For Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University, he is a member of the Executive Committee and co-chairs the International Committee.

Conner also has provided extensive financial support to the university. In addition to establishing an endowed professorship, he has funded a universitywide endowed scholarship and an endowment for renal research in the School of Medicine. He is a life member of the Danforth Circle Dean’s Level, and a sustaining charter member of the Danforth Circle Chancellor’s Level of the William Greenleaf Eliot Society. In recognition of his many achievements, Conner was recognized with an Arts & Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award in 2015.

The Selina Okin Kim Conner Professorship in Arts & Sciences is named for Conner’s late wife, who passed away in June 2009. Born in South Korea, she spent much of her life criss-crossing the globe, first as the daughter of a physician and public health specialist with the World Health Organization, and later as the wife of an international banking executive.

She studied at London University before earning a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from Barnard College, and a master’s degree in elementary education from Michigan State University. She and David met in Nepal, where he was working in the Peace Corps. She later taught for many years at the Singapore American School. An ardent supporter of the arts, she served on the board of the Singapore Art Museum and as a committee member of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra Ladies League.

She was an active member of Washington University’s International Advisory Council for Asia, serving alongside David since the council’s inception in 1995. Their two children, Marian Markwort and Daniel Conner, are both Washington University graduates and reside in St. Louis.

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