Charles Michael van der Horst
1952 - 2019
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Charles Michael van der Horst

January 4, 1952 - June 14, 2019

Chapel Hill

Charles Michael van der Horst, died on Friday, June 14, at the end of a marathon swim in the Hudson River of an apparent cardiac event. He was born in Hilversum, the Netherlands, and immigrated to the US as an infant. He was the son of the late Johannes Martines Arnold van der Horst and the late Sonja Eichenbaum [Teicholz] van der Horst, a holocaust survivor. Charlie was 67 years old.

As Professor of Medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Charlie worked passionately on the front lines of the HIV epidemic, both in the United States and Africa (primarily Malawi and South Africa), starting with his compassionate care and advocacy for the very first AIDS patients and making important contributions to the research that has made HIV/AIDS a preventable and treatable disease. After retirement in 2015, he volunteered at the Open Door free clinic in Raleigh, NC, where he created a program which provided access to Hepatitis C curative treatment for this medically vulnerable population. Charlie was also deeply involved in progressive politics and causes, and became a public face of North Carolina's Moral Monday movement, often standing beside the Rev. William J. Barber II. He and his wife were generous financial supporters of numerous progressive causes and organizations that support the most vulnerable.

Charlie was a friend to so many, and was always the first to offer real help to anyone in need. He seemed to have infinite capacity to bring people into his caring embrace.

He was a passionate athlete, ran multiple marathons including NY and Boston, competed in triathlons, and in the last year began training for marathon open-water swims. He loved to challenge himself, and surely was proud that he completed that last 15.7 mile swim.

Most important to him and those who loved him, he was a devoted, fun, funny, loving husband, father and brother. He leaves behind his wife Laura Svetkey (Chapel Hill NC), his daughters Anna Svetkey van der Horst (Salt Lake City UT) and Sarah Svetkey van der Horst (Chapel Hill NC); Sarah's husband Eddie Alcorn; Anna's partner Louis Nichols; his sisters Tatjana Schwendinger (Robert Schwendinger) and Jacqueline Sergent (Herve Sergent); his brother Roger van der Horst; his mother-in-law Marcia Tuchman Svetkey Wallace; his sister-in-law Susan Svetkey (Stephen Houze); his brothers-in-law Jonathan Svetkey (Ilana Virchis), Benjamin Wallace (Gwen Griffith), Benjamin Svetkey (Lenka Ulrichova), and Ford Weisberg (husband of the late Nancy Weisberg); and many beloved nieces, nephews and their children.

Funeral services will take place at 11am on Tuesday, June 18 at Beth El Synagogue, 1004 Watts Street in Durham, NC. A casket containing meaningful reminders from Charlie's life will be buried at the Durham Hebrew Cemetery after the funeral service. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in Charlie's honor to the progressive cause of your choice.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in The News and Observer on Jun. 17, 2019.
Funeral service
11:00 AM
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50 entries
October 3, 2019

I recently read about Charlie's endeavours and accomplishments on the Swimmers Guide. I also regret not having known him... but clearly he made the world a better place and no doubt was a stand-out role model to countless.

Charlie's interests in swimming, progress in immune system treatments, activism, and medical care for underserved in our midst -- as well as in Africa.... spoke clearly to me and further make Charlie someone who even though I never met, I feel comforted knowing he was around anyway.

My deepest sympathies to his family and friends.

Peg Loflin
Peggy Loflin
July 10, 2019
My deepest condolences for the sudden passing of Charles.

Marjon Kok, Hilversum, the Netherlands
July 3, 2019
WHAT A HERO! WHAT A MENSCH! WHAT AN INSPIRATION! (didn't know him, but remain inspired)
Jane L
July 3, 2019
June 27, 2019
I was a classmate of Charlie's at Andover, class of 1970. Although I lost touch with Charlie after graduating, he always remained fresh in my memory--he was just one of those individuals who make a lasting, appreciative impression. I am very sorry to hear of his passing.
Rhys Townsend
June 24, 2019
Dear Laura and family,
Charlie was so supportive and encouraging when I was a fellow and junior faculty member to follow a research career regarding herpes viruses and older adults. He is a co-author on my very first peer-reviewed paper. He made such a wonderful difference in so many lives . .
my condolences, Ken Schmader
June 23, 2019
Charlie was the rare individual who spoke candidly about injustice and with passion about the needs of the marginalized. He instinctively knew that to speak of moral choices, though not always viewed as politically correct for someone of his stature, was exactly what he needed to do, given his eminence. Despite his brilliance and the well deserved accolades accreting for decades, many of us in his neighborhood remember him for his warmth, ease in conversation, and genuine interest in our much less celebrated lives- in our quotidian daily experience. When my children set up a lemonade and snack stand in the neighborhood Charlie wheeled up in his Volvo convertible and enthusiastically purchased their offerings. Those of you close to him who loved him day by day, surely deeply miss his bright, engaging presence, love for you, sense of humor and unbridled devotion to you. My belief is that you possess a wealth of memories to assuage your grief and by which to keep him in your hearts and lives always. Know that you do not mourn his loss alone.
Maudy Benz
June 22, 2019
Dear Laura and family,
It hurts to hear of this tragic death. I will never forget his kindness and hospitality when I was new to UNC, or the fun of teaching the UNC AIDS class together with others. He brought excitement to all he did! I last heard his strong voice sailing out over the crowds at a Moral Monday march, uplifting and motivating, and was proud of him for inspiring others in this way. His memory will forever be a blessing.
Rachel Royce
June 21, 2019
Charlie and I were classmates together at Harvard Medical School. He and I worked together on the first Holocaust Remembrance Services in the Triangle.

It grieves me deeply to hear of his death. I send my condolences to his widow Laura Svetkey
Rose Shalom Halperin
June 21, 2019
Charlie and I occasionally swam together on the Triangle Aquatics Center Titans Masters swim team. He truly was an inspiration for me and others on our team. He will be missed.
Don Griffith
June 20, 2019
I vividly remember Dr. Van der Horst's lectures as a medical student, and I had the opportunity to hear him speak to the MD/PhD program. His passion for the health of his community and activism was so inspiring to me, and I hope to continue his vision of providing compassionate care especially to the most vulnerable. -Lee Hong, PhD in immunology, MS4
Lee Hong
June 20, 2019
Although I did not know Charlie personally, I would follow his glorious swimming tweets on the East Hampton Facebook page for years.. including his post at last summer's end, "Thank you for a great summer and see you next summer !" and they were always so inviting and I would always say, "Next summer I would swim with Charlie...", Godspeed Charlie
June 20, 2019
Charlie's mother and my mother were dear friends, and each happy interchange with Charlie kept their memories alive. A sad loss of an important human being. Sending condolences to all the family.
Marcia Marcus Kelly
June 20, 2019
I was deeply saddened to hear about Dr. Charles van der Horst and wanted to send my condolences.

There has been an overwhelming outpouring of tributes online dedicated to his memory, but my favorite is this one:

I remember meeting Dr. van der Horst in Zambia during one of his site visits. I was fortunate to have met him and recall how how was so extremely supportive of our "early childhood development" as international research fellows trying to carve a path forward in the Global Health field. It's through his encouragement and example that I continue to press on and hope to be an influence at my company to derive next generation immunotherapies for cancer - so that patients from ALL communities around the globe can benefit.

Here is a snapshot of the BSL2 "togatainer" lab where we processed HIV from DBS cards from HIV patients. It's a reminder to me of the importance of precision medicine to address the most pressing unmet needs.
Lillian Seu
June 20, 2019
I am so sorry for your loss....and the loss to all who treasure peace and justice. I remember him well from Moral Mondays and appreciate all that he has done to form a better world. May he rest in peace and may his family be comforted by loving thoughts and prayers.
Ellie Collins, Southern Pines NC
June 19, 2019
Dear Laura, Sarah and Anna,

John and I are deeply saddened by the loss of Charlie. As so many have said, he was an amazing person, inspiring so many careers and lives of activism. We feel fortunate to have spent time with him over the past 20 years, especially over the past decade. He loved the 3 of you so much, and in our recent dinners or lunches, he spoke so much about how Anna and Sarah were doing. He was so proud of all 3 of you, lauding your accomplishments. He also showed tremendous interest in our children and was so supportive of our kids' endeavors. He has greatly impacted us as community members and parents, and his legacy will live in how we conduct our daily lives. Thank you for sharing him with so many people. May God give you peace in this very difficult time. We will be praying for you.
Sherene Min
June 19, 2019
I worked briefly with Charlie, trying to get people from my hometown to help "put faces on the people" who were adversely affected by the North Carolina government's refusal to accept Medicaid expansion. Mainly though, I knew him from Beth El Synagogue, as one the kindest and most down-to-earth people I have encountered. What a loss to so many people, and condolences especially to his family.
Susan Breitzer
June 19, 2019
Charlie was a generous, warm, wonderful friend and colleague who was always willing to help. His academic altruism will not be forgotten nor will his irreverent sense of humor, wonderful smile and laugh. The global health research community will never be the same without him and the world will be a lesser place. He always spoke so warmly about his family. I remember one Fogarty orientation where he talked about having Friday dinners with his wife at the bar of a favorite restaurant where he paid the barman to leave them alone with a good bottle of wine and plates of food. He reminded the trainees to cherish loved ones. We will miss you Charlie! Warmest thoughts.
Yuka Manabe
June 19, 2019
I worked with Dr Van der Horst at the ID clinic. He was always very passionate about what he did and loved doing what was best for his patients. I have always remembered his fire, light and passion for what he believed. My deepest condolences to his family.
Jennifer Whitmore
June 19, 2019
I was very fortunate to have gotten to know Dr. van der Horst during the early years of the HIV epidemic in North Carolina. He was enormously important to the public officials and heath care providers working to prevent the spread of HIV and to support those who were already infected. Charlie was very generous in sharing his expertise, his passion and commitment to improving the lives of people suffering from HIV and to the communities around them. He was fearless in a time of uncertainly, high risk and high concern. Charlie was a compassionate leader and visionary for all time and for all of us. My heart goes out to the family at this very sad time. Leah Devlin
June 18, 2019
Dear Laura, Charlie was clearly a well-loved man and doctor. As long family friends of the Van Der Horst's, we send our deepest sympathy and prayers for strength as you deal with the grief of such a tremendous loss. His was, as they say, a life well-lived and our world is a better place because of his work and his caring. Our thoughts are with you and your daughters and Tanja, Roger and Jackie, knowing that the circle of your family is sadly broken, but hopefully will be brought closer together. Sending caring thoughts from all of the Olean Godfrey's. Jane Godfrey Larmon
Jane Godfrey Larmon
June 18, 2019
A donation has been made to Repairer's of the Breach and Health Care Justice of NC to honor him, his work and his legacy. Our condolences to his family and many friends. Belinda Novik and Barry Katz
June 18, 2019
I had the privilege of being a teammate of Charlie's on the Duke swimming team. He was bright, engaging and a friend to all. Over the years, I have not had contact with Charlie but each time I thought back to my Duke swimming days and I would smile, in part because of my fond memories of Charlie. R.I.P.
Ed O'Connor
June 18, 2019
Dear Charlie, my fellow fresser, friend and colleague. Never afraid to speak up, or act up for that matter. And always in the right. Brave man, wonderful loving family, many friends, grateful patients, admiring colleagues. You faced your challenges head on and lived a wonderful life. My daughters and I already miss you. Yes, you made a great impression on them even though you lived one thousand miles away! May you rest in peace.
Rob Murphy
June 18, 2019
Eternal Affection Arrangement- BASKET INCLUDED
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Tim Weber
June 18, 2019
Charlie had a BIG impact on so many many people's lives across the whole spectrum of humanity -- Charlie cared and his caring empowered all of us.

I feel fortunate to have had a small connection with him on ACTG062 and in the pool. He was an amazing role model as a person and clinician scientist.

My thoughts and prayers are with Charlie's family.
Katy Moore
June 18, 2019
Praying for the Lord's peace and comfort for Dr. Svetkey and his family and friends during this very difficult time.
Jeanine C. Holland
June 18, 2019
A good heart has stopped beating , a good heart has ascended to heaven. Why did you not ascend like Prophet Elija where we could be watching you going up ,instead you decided to go through the waters. We know water is life. God has assigned you to watch over the people you have saved through PMTCT Program especially here at UNC Project Malawi

Children ( some adults now) you have saved in Malawi, from contacting HIV are crying for you. The lives you have saved from contracting HIV and also those going through positive living testify that you are still among us. May your soul rest in peace.
Mary Kadiwa
June 18, 2019
An incredibly sad story. Im sure all in the international sport of long distance swimming share the sense of tragedy and loss.Deepest and most sincere condolences to Charles' family.Dean and Kylie
Dean Summers
June 17, 2019
Dr. Charlie van der Horst never minced his words and always spoke his truth. Although I was always a little nervous to knock on his office door at UNC, he never once turned me away. I appreciated his brute honesty, wisdom and passion for social justice. He was a one-of-a-kind doctor and mentor. Charlie, although our hearts are broken, we thank you for your undying service to humanity. We thank God for the gift He gave us in you and are praying for His peace to be with your family. May you rest in God's perfect peace.
Mamie Sackey Harris
June 17, 2019
On behalf of Dr. van der Horst's Urban Ministries Open Door Clinic colleagues, I can assert that we will continue the good fight to empower our patients to take charge of their medical conditions -- income inequality notwithstanding. Thank you so much for leaving us a protocol and systematic record of Hepatitis C treatments and we will endeavor to continue that legacy. We will miss dearly his tremendous energy and enthusiasm but will feel his presence in every client he impacted as well as those we are yet to serve -- what a wonderful role model! We wish the best to his family and want to reassure them that the spirits of Dr. van der Horst and Dr. Greenberg still illuminate Open Door Clinic, urging us to provide high-quality medical care so that we can hopefully spark a string of healthy lights in our underserved community.
Beth Campbell
June 17, 2019
A fierce force for good!
June 17, 2019
I met Charles the morning of the swim. I jumped off the boat right after him at the start. He was so happy and determined to finish the swim. His words inspired me the whole time I was swimming. He said you have to be mentally prepared to swim- and he was ready. I know how happy he must have felt swimming. I will forever look out at the river and remember his kind and brave message.
Lesa Fishman
June 17, 2019
This is truly heartbreaking. God, bless and keep this Great, Honest, Generous, Brilliant and Compassionate Humanitarian's family. Please accept my sincerest condolences, fervent prayers and sympathy during this trying time.
Veronica Bitting
June 17, 2019
Charlie, Bob and 2 Egyptian Swimmers that Charlie befriended at World Games in G-Boro
Bob Schmitz
June 17, 2019
Dear Charlie,

I've been thinking a lot about you ever since I got the news about your final swim a few days ago. I've been thinking about the first time I met with you in your office back in 2011, when I told you about my desire to return to Malawi and work there full-time as OB-GYN faculty. I remember how supportive you were and how you encouraged me to apply for the Fogarty Fellowship that you directed, which created the path for me to move to Malawi in 2012. Back then, I was surprised by how much you cared about someone who wasn't even in your Division, but now I know that your big heart and unending passion for helping others gave you the energy to make time for anyone who asked for it.

I then remember how in early 2013, I was falling into despair because my funding to stay in Malawi was running out, and I needed to successfully apply for a K01 to support myself. But I couldn't find an appropriate mentor or project to build off of. Once again, you swooped in with an idea and seed funding for me to successfully apply for my K01, allowing me to stay in Malawi another 4 years and continue in my dreams. When my K01 led me to an R01, you were one of the first people I emailed because I knew you deserved the credit for making that possible, and I knew how proud you would be. You always made me feel so special and important, when I knew that you were constantly surrounded by others like yourself who were infinitely more special and important than I could ever hope to be.

Most recently, I remember the last time I saw you, at the Moral March on Raleigh in February 2019. I told my husband James that I had to introduce you to him, because you'd made it possible for me to stay in Malawi in 2014, when I began dating him there. I told James what an important role you'd played in our lives and was so excited when we finally got the opportunity to all chat. As usual, you made time to talk to us, despite all the others who wanted your attention and all the the other important work going on that day.

It is fitting that my last memory of seeing you was of you in your element. . . rallying for the rights of those less fortunate, speaking out against injustice, opening doors for others, but still making time for a mentee. Words really cannot express the gratitude that I feel for your many acts of kindness towards me and how fortunate I was to have you as a mentor. Your many mentees will continue to follow you in the fight to make this world a more equitable place, and your legacy will continue on through your work and mentorship. You will not be forgotten.

May eternal peace be with you,
Jen Tang
Jen Tang
June 17, 2019
Charlie with Trainees at UNC Project Malawi
Mina Hosseinipour
June 17, 2019
Charlie was my first boss after undergrad back in 1994, but he was so much more. He hired me as research assistant and then data manager, always encouraging me to learn more, do more, connect more. Those were very hard years in HIV care and research, but he always treated people with grace and dignity. The lessons were shown, not told. He wrote my letters of recommendation for graduate school (though he wanted it to be medical school!), and then we kept up a little bit over the years. I haven't seen him in over two decades, but his influence on me is perhaps more profound now than it was then. His is the life well lived: overflowing with love for family and friends, love and desire to heal for his patients, and a true sense of tikkun olam. The world needs Charlies and I am grateful to have had the chance to know him. To Laura, Anna, and Sarah, may his memory be a blessing. I am so sorry for your loss.
June 17, 2019
So sad to hear of the tragic accident. We will miss your smile and energy. Shalom my friend
Ray Schinazi
June 17, 2019
Charlie was more than an incredible person. A physician that actually cared for ALL humans and did something everyday to help the World. Probably the best, non-selfish, and humble, brilliant man I've had the pleasure of knowing. I treasure our joint trip to Malawi to build capacity for HIV research as well as working on collaborative studies. You are a true hero, my friend.
Shrikant Bangdiwala
June 17, 2019
Eternal Affection Arrangement- BASKET INCLUDED
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Sympathy Gift courtesy of
James R. Tout
June 17, 2019
Charlie and John and I knew one another from 1987 (John and Charlie earlier) until his death. To be in the middle of the death and dying of all those patients at that time was more like a war than work, but none of us ever flagged in our intensity to serve patients. We knew how much Charlie loved swimming and competitiveness, (oh yes) and thus we pray that he is in some happy marathon in the sky. We will sorely miss Charlie and his advocacy and passion. All the best Laura to you and to your girls and the rest of the family.
Patricia Bartlett
June 17, 2019
I grieve for myself and all ( SO SO MANY) the people touched by Charlie. For me, practicing side by side with Charlie was one of the high spots of my career. I remember wondering, who is this guy who walks into a room with a big smile saying " Hi, I am Charlie, what can I do for you". I soon found out and my life was enriched. My grief is deep knowing there are so many who need him-why why, why?
There must be a counter point of some sense and joy. Joy experienced by the big people and the many little people whose lives have been enriched, many who are well when without his touch they would suffer and worse. Joy in just knowing a man who's goodness has had a WORLD wide influence. Joy in knowing, as a colleague, this giant amongst Physicians. Joy in just saying, Hey Charlie, what are you doing today? Joy in experiencing his ability to make me feel an equal. Joy in being a friend of a truly great man.
May peace eventually be upon this extrordinary man's family. I pray for them who have lost the most.
John B. (Jack) Emery, Jr. MD FACP
June 17, 2019
Dear Laura, Anna, Sarah, and your loved ones. I hold you in my heart as you experience this profound loss. Charlie and I shared countless pool lanes and heartfelt conversations over the 30 years we trained together. He was truly a brother and will be dearly missed. I don't think I've ever met a more generous hearted human being. I remember that he always said he needed to get home to his beloveds after practice. So fortunate that Patricia and I attended his 67th birthday practice and breakfast (which he treated everyone to) In January. A true Mensch who will never be forgotten.
Terrence Lee
June 17, 2019
Charlie escorted a group of the new speakers to the opening ceremony of the 2019 Conference of World Affairs. He said hi every time after when we passed each other. I made special note as sa DC resident that he once served a Howard University board. My heart aches for his family, friends and the world that knews his works. Rest in power, Charlie.
Kimberly Moore
June 17, 2019
I met Dr. Van Der Horst when he appeared as a guest speaker in my college pre-med public health class. His story was deeply inspiring, and I really look up to him. Now I am a medical student also want to leave impact in the world as he did. Today I am deeply saddened by the news he has passed. He had a huge heart, and was a great mentor, and role model for the next generation of doctors and activists. Rest in peace, Dr. Van Der Horst, your legacy will leave on.
Lin Wang
June 17, 2019
Charlie was such a powerful and passionate voice for good!! His sudden passing is a tremendous loss to the world. Lisa Graves, fellow CWA alum
Lisa Graves
June 17, 2019
I first met Charlie as his ID attending at UNC on clinical rotation in the early 1980s. I was working as a UNC faculty member in the Area Health Education in nearby Greensboro, NC as the first infectious diseases physician in that city. All before the recognition of HIV/AIDS that would soon mark his career.
Charlie was hilariously funny but never at an other's expense. We taught each other as a young fellow and aspiring faculty do. He clearly was intellectually engaged and bursting with energy. What most impressed me was his relentless pursuit of what was best for all patients whom he encountered but with the kindest inclusiveness that defined his life. He was instrumental in helping me develop an ACTG clinical research site in Greensboro which is now under the leadership of a former UNC fellow, Kees van Dam,MD. We owe so much individually to this amazing person.
He truly spanned the globe from Greensboro, Chapel Hill, Milawi, South Africa, and so many big and small places in between.
My wife Robin marched with Charlie in the Moral Mondays in Raleigh the past several years, and he inspired her as well. We are grieving along with the rest of the world but are especially grateful to know Laura and their children have so many family and friends in support at this very sad time.
Robin Lane & Timothy Lane
Greensboro, NC
Timothy Lane
June 17, 2019
Dearest Charles, your swimming brothers and sisters will now continue on and do the English channel, sadly minus our surrogate dad.

You will be in all our minds from this day forward and our swim will be dedicated to your memory and honour.

I hope the waters are calm and the winds are light my friend.

So missed, never forgotten.

The Polar Bears. X
Simon Freeman
June 17, 2019
My great joy to have been with him @ many Moral Monday events. Truly a blessing to so many.
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