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We warmly remember Dr. Beat Richner, the founder of Cambodia's Kantha Bopha Hospitals for children who passed away earlier this month at the age of 71 - (Kantha Bopha Hospital photo)



"Dr. Beat" played music concerts weekly to raise money for Free Health Care for Cambodian children - (Kantha Bopha Hospital photo)

Huge crowds calmly waited outside for medical treatment at Kantha Bopha Hospital in Phnom Penh - (Kantha Bopha Hospital photo)

Richner was the brains behind free health care for Cambodian children while working hands on 24/7 to get the job done - (Kantha Bopha Hospital photo)


James Loving/National Radio Text Service



I've interviewed some of the most famous entertainers and sports figures in the world of all time but… after seeing that crowd of families with children waiting for health care at Cambodia's Kantha Bopha hospital I knew this interview with the hospitals founder Dr. Beat Richner was going to be a something special in a category that I had never done


Friday, September 21, 2018


The passing of Dr. Beat Richner was a shock to me. I heard about it week after he died earlier this month at the age of 71.

Many children's lives were saved due to his efforts. The Swiss raised money to build the Kantha Bopha hospitals in Cambodia that provide free health care for children.

I interviewed Richner in 2003 at his Phnom Penh hospital. Richner came to my attention by transition as my efforts to find Cambodians that returned to their country to help out and rebuild the realm following the internal political conflict and the illegal carpet bombing of the nation in ruins.

Richner recognized the need to heal a nation of people that were too poor to afford medical care thus the Kantha Bopha hospital were created.

This was a massive task given the costs were high. In 2003 with only two hospitals to raise funding for his annual budget was US $12 million. Since that time he built two more hospitals which results in the need for more funding and stress.

As Richner talked to me, while doing a walk through the hospital, he visited his patients and in the process explained how he made ends meet on such a demanding budget.

My most memorable recall was the electronic imaging resonating CATSCAN equipment that he purchased used. He felt that it was a necessary device that had to be obtained.

Richner pointed out that his decision making and expenditures were questioned by Princess Anne who founded Save The Children NGO. She questioned why he spent so much money on Cambodian children. She expounded that it was an excessive amount for that cause.

Richner bristled at the inference that seemed to occupy his thinking years later. It was criticisms like this that propelled him to devote more of his energy into his project and make his dreams of saving Cambodian children's lives a priority. His efforts wasn't about him, it was about the children.

My being a musician I was intrigued when I saw an ad in the Cambodia Daily newspaper that noted Richner was a musician who played the cello and gave fund raising concerts at his hospital in Siem Reap the location where the famed Angkor Wat temples are located. It was as if I was about to make a trip to witness the Quincy Jones of Cambodia.

At the time I felt his first name was a play on words and Beat sounded like music beat. I felt it was clever BUT I was wrong. I later found that his name is pronounced B-yacht as in a small ship. My thinking was wrong but the interpretation works for the good.

I made a special trip to hear him play and hoped to meet him. As I was sitting in my seat waiting for the show to begin an American from Chicago that was sitting next to me said, "HE GAVE HIS LIFE FOR THIS."

That statement has resonated in my mind ever since.

When Richner finished his performance I approached him as he was walking to his dressing room. He seemed a bit taken back as I extended my hand to congratulate him as I was the only person to approach him.

I introduced myself and gave him my business card and requested an interview. He agreed for a certain day and time to meet him at his hospital in Phnom Penh. I was totally naive and at the time wasn't aware that he had a hospital in Phnom Penh.

That led me to believe that perhaps I made a needless trip as I could have contacted him there and saved myself a journey. The upside is I witnessed the musician in Richner and the journey made it possible.

In retrospect that was an inappropriate perception since during my interview in Phnom Penh I would realize that there was no way or time for him to be contacted by an unknown individual for a meeting. He was wall to wall involved in his job working 24/7 concentrating on how to heal and serve his patients.

My not knowing the layout of the Phnom Penh hospital the driver dropped me off at what appeared to be an entrance. As I walked through the garden to enter the building, Richer who was sitting in a kiosk apparently in a meeting with some men, furiously yelled out to me, "Where are you going."

I was startled as he fervently approached me. At that point I recognized him and said we have an appointment. He informed me that I should have entered the hospital in the front entrance.

Richner was an imposing figure. Having played basketball against tall people I estimate him to be about 6'3"or 6'4" as well as being a massive man.

He cooled down and then requested me to go inside and wait for him to finish his meeting. While doing so I searched to find the front entrance. I was astonished to see a massive amount of people with children waiting outside to receive treatment. It was an image that I will never forget.

I've interviewed some of the most famous entertainers and sports figures in the world of all time but after seeing that crowd I knew this was going to be a something special interview in a category that I had never done.



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