The death of her only child, François-Xavier, at age 24 during a helicopter mission in Mali, precipitated a dramatic change in Albina du Boisrouvray’s life. François-Xavier Bagnoud had been a helicopter pilot who specialized in rescue operations and dedicated his life to providing assistance to others. His death led du Boisrouvray to walk away from a successful career as a film producer to champion the cause of the tens of millions of vulnerable children left in the wake of the devastating AIDS pandemic. Since then, she has devoted all her energy, creativity, and vast experience to humanitarian causes, poverty, and research.
The founding of the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights, in 1993, was the product of the remarkable partnership of the Countess Albina du Boisrouvray and Founding Director Dr. Jonathan Mann. Countess du Boisrouvray had heard about Mann’s work at the World Health Organization. “To me he was a warrior fighting against AIDS at large,” she wrote, “standing for health and human rights, committed to rescue the discriminated, the most destitute, the most vulnerable ones.” Shortly before they met, Mann had read a news account about a “mysterious countess” who had given a grant to educate health workers in developing countries about pediatric AIDS. “I remember thinking that it was wonderful that such angels existed,” Mann said
In 1991, one of Albina du Boisrouvray’s charities funded the Global AIDS Policy Coalition at the Harvard School of Public Health, which had Jonathan Mann as its director. A year later, her foundation announced that it was giving $20 million, its largest gift ever, to establish the FXB Center and to pay for construction of the François-Xavier Bagnoud building in Boston, and the François-Xavier Bagnoud Professorship in Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health. After Mann’s untimely death, he was succeeded by several directors, including Dr. Jennifer Leaning from 2010 to 2018 and Dr. Jim Yong Kim.
In September 2018, Dr. Mary T. Bassett became the director of Harvard FXB. Immediately before her directorship, she served as commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene where she worked to address the structural racism at the root of the city’s persistent gaps in health between white New Yorkers and communities of color. Early in her career, while working as a physician and part of the medical faculty of the University of Zimbabwe, she developed a range of AIDS prevention interventions at the time Dr. Mann first began to speak about how people’s rights–or lack of rights–shaped the contours of the escalating HIV/AIDS epidemic.