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Donald A. Henderson

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Donald A. Henderson MD, MPH ’60
1928 - 2016

Homayoon Farzadegan

Baltimore 08/22/2016 03:50:23 PM

With my deepest sadness and sympathies. He changed my life by giving me the opportunity to start the first HIV lab in our school in 1985. A great loss but a great source of pride for our school and public health.

Kathy Zoon

Baltimore 08/22/2016 04:04:00 PM

DA was certainly an amazing man and a force to be reckoned with.

Anna Durbin

Takoma Park 08/23/2016 10:45:27 AM

DA was a wonderful teacher. When my son was in middle school he and some classmates were looking for a National History Day project. He chose DA Henderson and small pox eradication. DA was wonderful with the students, meeting with them in person and allowing them to film the interview. They went on to win the state competition. DA later sent them an autographed copy of his book. My son still talks about that experience.

Mathuram Santosham

Baltimore 08/23/2016 01:45:33 PM

I got to know DA after I came back to JHSPH after a six-year stay at Whiteriver, AZ (from 1981 to 1986) where I worked with the Apache and Navajo Indian populations. As a Pediatric Resident in the 70’s I read a lot about DA’s work and greatly admired his accomplishments. When I got back to Baltimore after my stay in Arizona, DA welcomed me warmly and was very supportive of my work with the Apache and Navajo Indian populations.

In 1991, I approached him about establishing a Center for American Indian Health at JHSPH. DA agreed with no hesitation and pledged his support for the Center. Since that time, I have remained his friend and admirer. I would often meet him at the Maryland Athletic Club where we were both members. We would share stories of our international travels and interesting public health experiences. It was always so much fun to chat with him about his experiences in public health. Above all, he was a true giant in public health who was tenacious in achieving the goal of eradicating smallpox. His demise is a great loss to the public health community. However, he has certainly left his footprints on the sands of time and will continue to serve as a role model for many young public health professionals for generations to come. Many of us were blessed to have him as a friend and colleague. He will be missed greatly.

Julio Frenk

Miami 08/25/2016 10:01:33 AM

DA Henderson's death is an enormous loss for public health worldwide. Like so many, I was privileged to benefit from DA’s wisdom and generosity. He was a true giant of global health. Please convey my condolences to the community of the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Bernard Ferrari

Baltimore 08/26/2016 09:41:19 AM

Here's a link to a story about D.A. from the University of Rochester Medical Center. He earned his MD in 1954 from the University of Rochester's School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Jennifer Nuzzo

Baltimore 08/26/2016 02:16:44 PM

I had the enormous privilege of working with D.A. Henderson for the last 13+ years. He was very supportive of my decision to pursue a DrPH in Epidemiology at JHSPH and happily agreed to serve on my examination committee. D.A. strongly believed in a public health education that was focused on training students to be practitioners. He often spoke of the importance of going out into the world to gain an accurate understanding of real public health problems and of working to identify and implement practical solutions. That his life and his career as a practitioner are being so honored throughout the world is a testament to the social value of these ideals and D.A.’s embodiment of them. I am deeply honored to have had the opportunity to learn from D.A. and will miss him dearly. But I hope that through continued examination of all that he achieved, we (JHSPH and the broader public health community) can continue to learn from him about what it means and takes to have careers that make a difference.

Hershel Raff PhD

Milwaukee WI USA 08/26/2016 03:39:15 PM

Dr. Henderson was an amazing person - very imposing without being intimidating. He led by example rather than by edict. I learned so much by just watching how he ran an event. He said what he meant and meant what he said!

Peter Agre

Baltimore 08/26/2016 03:55:04 PM

Now a major figure in the Johns Hopkins pantheon, D.A. was also our warmhearted friend. His spirit will continue to lift us, and our job is to carry on as though he were still here. I cannot help but smile when I hear the term "shoe-leather epidemiology." Thanks D.A.!

Chris Beyrer

Baltimore 08/26/2016 04:01:06 PM

An unforgettable professor, in addition to his many great contributions--DA invited our group of preventive medicine/public health residents at JHU to the White House where he was serving as science advisor to the President (this was 1990). His description that day of the critical role of research in answering key questions and shaping strategy as the smallpox eradication campaign proceeded was one of the most profound teachings I've ever been fortunate enough to receive.

He also insisted that everyone, everyone, rotate through the field at least every 3 months--no one allowed to dictate policy from Geneva or Washington who was not out regularly in the field and engaged in the actual work of the effort. Invaluable wisdom. 

He was unfailingly gracious, approachable, funny, and had a crystalline mind. If the Nobel Prize in Medicine was not so focused on basic science, he and the smallpox team would surely have shared it. The eradication of that ancient, disfiguring and often fatal viral scourge is surely one of the single greatest triumphs of public health in human history. 

We were last together at the Grand Palace in Bangkok when DA received the revered Mahidol Prize, Thailand's highest honor, for his smallpox work. A magical evening shared with Paul Farmer, Michel Sidibe', Bob Black, Roger Glass and Cort Robinson. DA was frail, but when he got to the podium that wonderful familiar voice was strong and the wit at the ready. Ponder the human suffering this man prevented...

John Neff

Seattle, Washington 08/26/2016 04:56:31 PM

DA was a dear friend. I entered the EIS program in 1963 in the new smallpox unit. DA was my boss and a most attentive mentor. He was exciting to be around and gave me freedom and guidance to develop rates for adverse events associated with smallpox vaccination in the United States.

Those two years began a lifelong friendship. It was fun and exciting to work with him and I owe him gratitude for what he meant to me as a friend and young professional. I am sure that many can give him this same heartfelt tribute. It was not surprising to us who worked with him in those early years and in later years that he had such a major impact on public health.

Ruth Namuyinga

New Jersey 08/26/2016 06:16:23 PM

DA helped change the direction of my life by supporting my dream to train as a disease detective in the Epidemic Intelligence Service program at CDC. He inspired me with the tremendous accomplishments he made in the field of public health and was kind and supportive.

Samuel Sarmiento

New York, NY 08/26/2016 07:41:47 PM

I had the pleasure of meeting this public health legend while pursuing my MPH at Hopkins. For a man with his accomplishments, he was extremely unassuming and approachable. I appreciate his insight into a career in public health: it's an all-or-none commitment. People like him will continue to inspire us and propels us to achieve excellence in public health.

Frank G. Hammond, MD, MHS'77

Barquisimeto, Venezuela. 08/26/2016 08:28:15 PM

With deep sorrow I received Dr. Klag's letter letting us know that Dear Dr. Henderson, Dean Emeritus, passed away last Friday. May his soul rest in peace.

He was a superb professional and academic, a sincere and wonderful person. We were very privileged to know him during our last year at JH School of Public Health.

In February 2015, our Unit of Medical Genetics joined the celebrations honoring Dr. Henderson at Welch Medical Library, sending him a photo and congratulations on his achievements. We are very grateful and cherish the words of encouragement for our work during these difficult years, especially coming from him, so distinguished and constant in all his tasks.

Please give our words of condolences to his wife and family, and our sympathy to all past and present authorities and faculty at the School of Public Health. Let us give our best trying to keep up with Dr. Henderson's legacy.

Patricia Stone

Menlo Park, California 08/26/2016 11:42:55 PM

Dr. Henderson was dean when I enrolled in the Master of Health Science program in 1978. I graduated in 1980 and his signature is on my diploma. I was always in awe of his accomplishments which made me feel proud to have received my Master's from Hopkins and to have studied public health. Just knowing that the Dean had eradicated smallpox was very impressive to me. He truly was a giant in health care and public health. Condolences to his family and to the Hopkins community.

Fadia Tohme Shaya, PhD '94

Baltimore, MD and Beirut, Lebanon 08/27/2016 08:49:39 AM

My sincere condolences to the family and the full community, local and international.

Dorcas Adaramola

Springfield, IL 08/27/2016 12:20:40 PM

I learned from a very courageous and insightful teacher during my MPH year. A lot of the stories he told were about things that happened in Nigeria, my home country. I am sad to learn that he has passed on but will always cherish those memories.

Lewis Kaplan, MHS 1983

Sydney, Australia 08/28/2016 03:58:37 AM

My relationship with D.A. started when I was just 19 years old, working as an independent volunteer on the smallpox eradication program (SEP) in Ethiopia in 1973. D.A. was the ‘Chief of the World’, as one letter to him was erroneously addressed, but he somehow managed to find the time to take a personal interest in me.

When I applied in 1974 to follow some of the US Peace Corps volunteers from Ethiopia to work on SEP in Asia, D.A. told me that WHO had a minimum hiring requirement of a graduate degree. This spurred me to apply to university. A few months before starting my degree in 1975, I received a telegram from D.A. inviting me for an immediate assignment in Bangladesh. It was ‘all experienced smallpox hands on deck’ after a disastrous new epidemic, and it appeared D.A. had created a special job category just for me! Although I was paid around half the rate of the other short-term consultants due to my lack of academic qualifications, $25 per day was a large fortune to me after my $1.50 per diem in Ethiopia. D.A. asked Drs Stan Foster and Nick Ward to look out for me, and I worked for a few months in Bangladesh - harder than I ever have since - until the next monsoon made it well-nigh impossible to reach my designated work zone.

After my BA degree I tried various jobs, but didn’t find satisfaction. I asked D.A. for his advice as I already saw him as a trusted mentor. Again he found time for me and suggested a Master’s at JHSPH. This took some negotiation as I had no basic academic qualifications in any science subjects, but once again rules were slightly bent, and I enrolled in an MHS in 1981.

I somehow became vice-president of the student assembly and found myself - as a new ex-smoker - promoting the idea to D.A. that the school canteen should have a separate area for smokers. (D.A. had not yet given up his long habit of smoking Kent cigarettes.) To his credit, he readily agreed and subsequently accepted a second iteration of the plan which reversed the first arrangement where non-smokers were confined to a small space at the back to now giving non-smokers the lion’s share of the canteen. Hard to imagine nowadays!

I completed my MHS in 1983 following a year at 615 N. Wolfe St and a year’s internship in newly independent Vanuatu. By this time I counted D.A. as a friend as well as a mentor. He and Nana made it very clear that they would be more than disappointed if I did not visit and stay at their lovely Baltimore home anytime I was in the USA.

Fortunately for me there were multiple occasions over the years to cement this friendship with them both. When they came to my adopted hometown of Sydney, Australia, we again enjoyed each other’s company. By now I was a reasonably senior public health professional in my own right, but my relationship with D.A. actually felt little different from when I was a humble, unqualified volunteer back in 1973 – somehow as an equal, always as interested in my life and career as I was in his.

D.A. influenced my life in so many positive ways and provided just the right amount of support and guidance - while never really seeming to do so.

Vale D.A. - a great leader, and a great friend to so many.

Linda Nelsen '81

Wayne 08/28/2016 05:41:55 PM

One of the most vivid memories of my time at JHSPH was the lecture to the introductory class in Infectious Disease Epidemiology presented by DA Henderson as the world was declared smallpox free. I can still remember his words as he described the eradication program. What an amazing gift to the world from an accomplished, inspirational man.

Radha Rajan

Baltimore, MD 08/28/2016 09:58:59 PM

DA Henderson unwittingly shaped my path in public health. In 2002 I had just graduated from college and was job searching. I went to a symposium at JHSPH and I was enthralled by Dr. Henderson's account of smallpox eradication and the lessons that could be applied to bioterrorism preparedness.

I went up to him after his talk, and being new to the field, I did not know I was chatting with one of its giants. Making exceedingly gracious smalltalk with me, Dr. Henderson asked me what I planned to do for work. I told him I was considering an offer to work with NACCHO, a national organization representing county and city health departments across the U.S. Dr. Henderson praised the organization's work and encouraged me to take the opportunity.

On his advice, I started working at NACCHO and found my passion for public health. I returned to JHSPH a few years later for my MPH, and several years after that I am now back to earn a DrPH. I am thankful to have met Dr. Henderson and my thoughts are with all who knew and cared for him.

Antonio M Quispe

Lima 08/29/2016 12:31:22 AM

Our dear DA was one of the most bright faculty members I knew at JHSPH. His amazing clarity and generosity impacted my career big time. Thanks to his advice I refocused my PhD thesis towards applying his thoughtful eradication strategies. He taught me something that I will never forget: "Surveillance must be used always as an intervention, otherwise what is the point?"

Oh DA, as a little part of your gigantic legacy I will raise that flag proudly, and pass it to the future generations to honor it. Un fuerte abrazo amigo, nunca serás olvidado...

Francisco Becerra '84

Washington 08/29/2016 10:48:44 PM

I got to know and work with DA when I became President of the Student Assembly while in the MPH Program. His presence, dynamism and kindness were qualities he preserved during his life, both professionally and personally.

We met again at PAHO when we honored a Hero of Health of the Americas, Dr. Ciro de Quadros, as DA was honored by the organization years before.

His work has guided many public health workers and immunization programs around the world and his and Dr de Quadros' work have placed this Region as the best in achieving elimination of polio, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome. DA joins his good friend Ciro in Elysium. 

DA has a special place at PAHO as a Hero of Health of the Americas. He has a special place in the hearts of all those who knew him.

Amy Tsui

Baltimore 08/31/2016 04:51:14 PM

In 2012, D.A. helped the Gates Institute answer a question that had come from Bill Gates: "If smallpox had not been eliminated at all – still 2 million deaths per year – what would be happening with population growth now?”

D.A. advised us on when smallpox mortality from two main strains numbered around 2 million, i.e., in the early and middle 1960s. We were then able to estimate the impact of continued smallpox mortality on world population size in 2011. The answer is world population would have been smaller by 160.5 million compared to its actual population size of 7,094 million.

One measure of D.A.'s global health impact is that his efforts at smallpox eradication helped save nearly 161 million lives over those 35 years. He and his wife were also strong supporters of planned parenthood and family planning access.

He leaves a lasting legacy with his public health contributions and leadership.

Marie-Louise Goulet, M.P.H.

Rockville, MD 09/01/2016 11:52:50 AM

As a Commissioned Officer in the USPHS, I was in the 1976 MPH program at the School. D.A. Henderson was introduced as a guest lecturer for my epidemiology class. Dr. Henderson was going to speak about his experience with WHO's Smallpox Eradication program.

When I heard what the topic was, I thought to myself that this was not going to be very interesting. Boy, was I ever wrong! In fact, D.A. Henderson's slides, coupled by his fantastically riveting presentation, created a virtual reality whereby I felt as though I were there and part of the Public Health team.

D.A.'s presentation offered a welcome break from some of the textbook cases, which could be somewhat dry and boring.  

Without a doubt, D.A.'s presentation was the most memorable experience in my entire MPH program. Amidst all his experience and leadership qualities, D.A. Henderson impressed me by the aura of humility that surrounded this true Public Health giant.

Thomas A. Pearson, MD, MPH '76, PhD '83

Gainesville, Florida 09/02/2016 12:06:26 PM

In July, 1978, D.A. asked me to be the first Chief Resident in Preventive Medicine. He agreed with the residents that the residency needed more organization and strongly wanted residents to have more experience "in the field." So, this was D.A.'s first priority for me and he put Edyth Schoenrich in charge of keeping track of me.

I then went downtown to the Department of Health and Paul Sorley, the state epidemiologist, and I concocted a plan in which Paul would call me if he had an outbreak of infectious disease and I would send a resident to lend a hand.

I had envisioned a few clusters of diarrheal disease and other "bread and butter" experiences in field epidemiology. Instead, a wave of army veterans returned from an American Legion Convention in August, with a new, scary infection which came to be known as "Legionnaire's Disease."

In a flash, our Johns Hopkins Preventive Medicine residents appeared on the front page of the Baltimore Sun, tracking down the veterans and questioning them about any symptoms.

D.A. burst into my office and I have never seen such a broad smile! We had many more calls for our residents' assistance, including another major effort creating press coverage a few months later during the outbreak of Swine Flu. We pilot-tested a number of other novel Residency programs before turning over the program to Marsh McBean at the end of my year.

D.A. always saw community service as an exciting part of the JHSPH mission and "work in the field" was clearly one of his passions. I continued to interact with D.A. on and off for the next 35 years. It was always my great pleasure and I always learned something. Thank you, D.A.

Zhengchun Jiang

Baltimore 09/02/2016 10:55:31 PM

D.A. Henderson is an immortal public health hero.

Nirbhay Kumar

New Orleans, LA 09/06/2016 03:55:34 PM

It is with great sadness and a sense of loss that I read about DA. He was the dean when I was given a chance to join the JHU faculty in 1986, and through my limited interactions with him, he left unforgettable memories,

While speaking at a JHSPH mini-symposium, right after DA's presentation, I gave a talk on Malaria Transmission Blocking Vaccine and I used the term eradication of malaria. His words after my talk: "Young man, smallpox was more than enough, I would never dream of undertaking another disease eradication program and certainly not as complex as malaria" have left ever-lasting memories and respect for what DA was able to do for smallpox.

Mary K. Willian, DrPH'82, MPH'79

Lake Forest, IL 09/11/2016 06:03:36 PM

I worked with Dr. Henderson when I served as the student representative to the Committee on Human Volunteers.

One of my fondest memories was a meeting with him in his office when he stopped our discussion and said "You know I am credited with eradicating smallpox worldwide and I can't even centralize the printing department in this school."

While intimidating in his accomplishments and physical presence, he demonstrated unconditional kindness and patience with students. I am deeply grateful that I had the opportunity to be educated and guided by him.

Molly (D'Esopo) Bowen

Baltimore 09/12/2016 12:30:52 PM

I Worked closely with DA for 15+ years, first at SPH and then at UPMC. I can't ever remember him refusing to take a call. He was deeply committed to public health communication, and insisted that the phone be covered at all times. He always said that if we didn't respond to media inquiries and requests for information, someone else would gladly step in and get it wrong.

He was wry, sarcastic, and self-deprecating; it was a blast to work with him for so many years. He was also a friend you could count on. Even after we no longer worked together, we stayed in touch. I certainly miss hearing from him.

Lena Denis

Boston, MA 09/15/2016 04:47:22 PM

Dr. Henderson was the special guest for a class I took as a freshman at Hopkins during intersession 2008, about the history of vaccines. I loved the class anyway, but it was a truly special experience to have possibly the most over-qualified person in the world come and give a presentation to a bunch of undergraduates. (Many of us weren't even majoring in the sciences, myself included.)

I remember being mesmerized by how nice and unassuming he seemed, despite the historic and scientific weight of the incredible photographs and stories he had for us. It was a moment that typified what I loved about going to Hopkins: being in the room with people who used their minds, their interests, their resources, and their compassion in conjunction, for the betterment of humanity.

Though I never knew Dr. Henderson one-on-one, he impacted important choices I made about how I wanted to use my studies and my life, and thus I found myself feeling emotional when I learned today about his passing. My best wishes and hopes for many blessings to his family, those he worked with, and everyone he gave another chance at life to as a result of smallpox eradication.

Nkuchia M. M'ikanatha

Hershey, PA 09/27/2016 10:49:45 PM

I worked closely with DA Henderson as a contributor to the first and second edition of Infectious Disease Surveillance, published by Wiley Blackwell in 2007 and 2013. As a contributor, DA was conscientious, most pleasant, and generous with his insights.  

He was always ready to assist in scientific review of content on disease eradication. During the formative stages of the surveillance text, I was fortunate to be introduced to DA Henderson. He will remain an inspiration not only through his seminal work on surveillance but also through his kindness.

Jim Anthony

Michigan 10/24/2016 08:30:29 AM

I knew Dean Hume, Dean Stebbins, and Associate Dean Sorensen better than I knew Dean Henderson, but DA showed he knew me well when I visited him in the late 1980s, not too long before he signed off on my promotion to professor. When I entered his office, he was exiting from his "smoking closet" and we shared a quick laugh about how the deans of the School had had something of a tobacco tradition. (I believe Dean Sommer had the "smoking closet" dismantled during renovations of the 1990s, and deserves credit for shaping a robust anti-tobacco stance at the School.) DA started grilling me about my ideas for epidemiology and prevention of crack-cocaine use, its links to HIV infection, and other epidemiological inquiries then underway. Largely consistent with Andy Sorensen's point of view, he offered reassurance that the School would be a good home for our planned Drug Dependence Epidemiology Training Program, and that we could count on central administration support to expand that program and keep it running for decades, once we built it. (I have not checked lately, but I think it now is approaching its 25th anniversary of consistent NIH funding, and has become one of the largest NIH T32 programs for epidemiology and prevention research. Without that "central office" encouragement from DA and Andy Sorensen, it would have been difficult to move that T32 program beyond the blueprint stage.) We salute DA for massive accomplishments in public health. He had many minor accomplishments, via encouragement of faculty initiatives, that also deserve attention. They are the "stuff" that make a great School greater.

Dan Epstein

Washington DC 10/31/2016 11:57:45 AM

I worked at PAHO on media communications for polio eradication in the Americas when D.A. was chairman of the EPI Program's Technical Advisory Group. I arranged many media interviews for him in various countries, and he was always gracious and eloquent, helping us promote the benefits of immunization. He had a special camaraderie with the crew who had worked with him on smallpox eradication, including Ciro de Quadros, Peter Carrasco, and others. I went to the unveiling of his book with Tommy Thompson, and it was heartening to see the long line of admirers seeking autographed copies. We will miss D.A.

Xaviour Walker

Irvine, CA 11/03/2016 01:30:26 PM

When I was interviewing for my preventive medicine residency in 2014, I was looking at the bookshelf in the offices and saw a black book called "Smallpox - The Death of Disease" by DA Henderson. The book was a fascinating and remarkable memoir of how a man led a small team and coordinated a larger group of community health workers to eradicate smallpox.

It was even more remarkable after starting my MPH and preventive medicine residency that he ended up coming to speak to us in person (he was a great support of our program - as others have stated), along with our health policy class.

At the same time I was doing some policy work with the World Medical Association and became very interested in the issue of the destruction of the smallpox virus sample. It was an issue that DA had written about extensively since smallpox was eradicated. I talk to DA about doing my capstone project on this topic. Despite being a person of countless awards, he was so generous in his time and always made time for discussing the many issues relating to the smallpox virus.

Interesting he first said that one of the most important things that the smallpox program did was allow the infrastructure and platform for the expanded program on immunizations (EPI), which has help rid much of the world of preventable childhood diseases.

I ended up spending my entire MPH year reading everything I could on the smallpox virus and the pros and cons for destruction/retention. When it came time for presenting my capstone, DA attended, which was a real highlight, and I also did a 15-20min video interview on these issues, which I am finishing editing and will post at a later date. In trying to take on the issue further of the destruction of the smallpox virus and potential risk of retention, I ended up writing a white paper and brought a policy forward to the World Medical Association General Assembly for possible adoption and consideration.

Thank you DA for everything you are and for leaving this world a better place.

I am just going to put a few links below, as DA's legacy is very much still with us.

NY times op-doc on the smallpox virus

Smallpox eradication archives (Leigh Henderson his daughter has done an amazing job with this, note it has the smallpox 'red book' in pdf which is considered the WHO smallpox bible)

John Barry

new orleans 04/02/2017 01:20:40 PM

Sorry I'm so late contributing to this that my words will probably go unread, except possibly by some future historian. Maybe that's fitting, since I'm a historian. 

Long before I ever met D.A. I thought of him as a giant, and of course he was, in every way. His size gave him instant presence wherever he was, but his mind and his words gave him more. The force of his arguments, the credibility his personal history brought to what he said, and his personaility-- anything he considered important he pushed relentlessly-- made him difficult to withstand; it was leaning against a hurricane. I knew him in the context of influenza pandemic preparedness-- I had written a book about the 1918 pandemic and had looked closely at what many cities had done to control or at least slow the spread of disease (none of which succeeded), and as a result got invited to many a working group planning what came to be called Non-pharmaceutical Interventions. We hit it off instantly. We also agreed on various issues, and we were often in a minority of two. Both of us worried about the efficacy of most proposed social control measures, chiefly because they needed to be implemented with great rigor to have any chance of success. As an historian studying past crises, I considered that highly unlikely. His personal experience led him to the same conclusion.

At any rate, I've been amused by all the descriptions of D.A. as diplomatic. I never found him so. At least in private conversation, he was more of the "not suffer fools gladly" school and penetrating and correct in his assessments. I particularly remember during the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak a phone call from him on a Friday afternoon, asking me my opinion of a CDC recommendation to, according to my memory, close any school and its feeder schools if a single case appeared. I told him in exceedingly blunt language what I thought. "That's what I think too," he said. Before schools opened Monday, he got the recommendation over-ruled and reversed-- an indication of his influence and persistence. I don't believe he was particularly diplomatic over those two days. I think there was quite a bit of weight thrown around, and a few pieces of china smashed.