Remembering Joep Lange: RHS Exchange Student, HIV Researcher

Joep Lange dances with Homecoming Queen Donna Seville.

Isabel Hanewicz, RHStoday Editor-In-Chief

Editor’s Note: Joep Lange, 59,  died July 17th. Lange was traveling on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, en route to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, when the plane was shot down by a missile. The aircraft crashed near Hrabove, Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew members. It is not known who shot down the plane or why, although many groups have hypothesized that Russian-backed rebels fired the missile. 

Before he dedicated his life to HIV research, had five children, and change the way we think about HIV today, Dr. Joep Lange was, well, a bit of a hippie.

1971, and Lange is 17.  In the school newspaper, Lange poses for a photo with part of his shirt in his mouth, flashing the peace sign. His hair, brown and wavy, hung well past his ears in a 70’s bob.

He already graduated from high school in the Netherlands, but came to Robinson as a senior during the ’71-’72 school year. An exchange student, he spoke conversational but not fluent English.

“He was easygoing, didn’t let a lot of things stress him out,” says David Booker, a friend and former classmate of Dr. Lange. “I tried to make him feel welcome, and he appreciated that. He was always nice to me.”

At the time, Booker says, he had not yet developed a passion for the sciences that would later be his drive. Instead, he enjoyed writing, and was an honorary member of Quill and Scroll, the literary club, along with Key Club. He was well liked, and even shared a dance with the Homecoming Queen.

“He had a true love for his country,” says Booker, pointing to a photo of Lange in the yearbook, where he had written a note for Booker.

Here you see an intellectual at work,  the note begins, with a joking tone Booker says was common for Lange. He is handsome. And he hopes to see you at his home. And that is Holland. My dear Holland. 

And after his year at Robinson, Lange did return to the Netherlands. He studied medicine at the University of Holland, and in the 1990s,  advocated combination therapy- using more than three drugs- to treat HIV, the basis for HIV treatment today.

He founded the nonprofit PharmAccess, dedicated to expanding HIV/AIDS treatment in developing countries, and in 2006 became a professor at his alma mater, the University of Amsterdam.

Six years later, he returned to Tampa for his 40 year high school reunion.

“[When] I saw him, he was way different. [At the reunion] they said he was doing medical research to cure AIDS,” says Booker. “The first thing I thought was wow, he’s done well with his life.”

Booker points to his 40 year reunion t-shirt, which he has worn in Lange’s honor for two days straight.

“He was a good man, I felt like that,” he says. “He had a good heart, and was trying to live out his heart.”