|The late, great Urban Jonsson|
If ever there was a better proponent of Neil Young's famous line "it's better to burn out than to fade away" I can't think of one. Urban went down swinging, for nutrition, for rights, for humanity.
Why was he so great?
Well, for starters, he was a conceptual thinker. Want to know where the UNICEF framework came from? What the Lancet framework was inspired by? Answer: Urban Jonsson.
He understood the importance of politics in nutrition. He had a stint as a politician in Sweden. He was a master communicator and he understood how to do deals for nutrition.
He was practical yet idealistic. He popularised the triple A cycle within UNICEF (assessment, analysis, action) and he popularised (with others) the importance of rights in nutrition and in development more broadly--he was eloquent in explaining how people had to have support to claim rights and how duty bearers often needed support to deliver on those claims.
He was fearless. He basically said whatever he thought, no matter the consequences for himself (and sometimes for others). This got him into trouble quite often. Sometimes it made him unnecessarily controversial. And while he often sucked the oxygen from a room, he usually substituted that with boundless energy and passion. Read about him here, in his own words.
The first time I ever spoke to him was on the phone in 1994 while I was working in South Africa. He called me up out of the blue to "summon" me to give a presentation at the UNSCN meetings that year. It took me about 20 minutes to convince him I would not attend -- because I would be on honeymoon!
He was that kind of a person--he wouldn't take no for an answer when it came to nutrition. We need more people like that.
I will miss him, as will thousands of others.