Mark was born in Stillwater, MN, to Reuben and C. Jean Jacobson. He grew up with his three sisters and became the youngest Eagle Scout in Minnesota, graduating from Stillwater High School in 1970. He graduated from Harvard college in 1974 and from medical school at the University of Minnesota in 1978.   

Mark saw medicine as a tool to help serve others. After he completed his residency in internal medicine, Mark worked in refugee camps in Somalia for a short time and completed an MPH program at Johns Hopkins University, where he met his wife-to-be Linda in 1981. His partner in life and work, they graduated together in 1982 and were married in Linda’s home of Chattanooga, TN later that year. The month after they were married they moved to Nairobi, Kenya, for community health work through Hopkins and USAID. Mark taught himself Swahili at that time.

Mark first went to Arusha, Tanzania in 1975 with his father to visit Lutheran missionaries and said, “It was life changing for me as God seemed to grab hold of me and show me that this was where God wanted me to serve. That was my calling.” Mark and Linda moved to Arusha in 1985 and started working through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Arusha was their home of over 35 years where they raised their three daughters. They hosted countless friends, church, and medical groups in Ilboru, where Mark happily shared about Lutheran health care in Tanzania. Mark was a member of the Arusha Community Church from its inception. Throughout his life and career he charged (literally and figuratively!) along the challenging roads in Tanzania. 

A man of vision and action, Mark grew a one-room clinic into two nationally recognized hospitals with more than 500 staff and 150,000 patients per year. The impact Mark had on healthcare in Tanzania is immeasurable. As health needs in the area changed, he developed programs around HIV/AIDS, obstetric fistula repair, palliative care and hospice (including co-founding the African Palliative Care Association), cancer care (including as a board member of the Foundation for Cancer Care in Tanzania), the Plaster House rehab center, and medical training and scholarships for hundreds of staff (including surgical residencies and a new nursing school).  In 2020, when COVID affected Mark and Linda’s plans to divide their work and time between Minnesota and Tanzania, Mark quickly pivoted to consulting on health projects and COVID worldwide, from South Sudan and Bangladesh and provided guidance and comfort to his colleagues in this trying time. 

Mark was a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine and the University of Virginia School of Medicine and was known as ‘Prof’ to his Tanzanian colleagues. The Mark and Linda Jacobson Infusion Center in Moshi, Tanzania, is named in their honor. Mark was recognized for his work in international health by the Luther Institute, the Minnesota Medical Association, the American Medical Association Foundation, and the University of Minnesota Medical School, but what he really valued was that he helped build local health institutions that will remain in the care and leadership of Tanzanians. 

Mark loved safari drives and bird watching on his ‘Daktari’s hatari safaris’. He enjoyed music throughout his life, from singing with his high school band (UTA), to singing with the Harvard Glee Club for the Pope under Leonard Bernstein, to directing the ACC church choir, to playing guitar around the campfire, to singing with his daughters. Mark also loved to travel (he and Linda had a lifelong argument over who’d been to more countries – Linda won), and formed lifelong friendships in the squash court. He kept a sense of humor to the end: of his brain tumor he joked “I’m sick, but it’s all in my head”. Mark died at age 70 on February 11, 2022, surrounded by his family. He is survived by his loving wife Linda; his three daughters and their spouses, Laura Jacobson (James Wu), Sarah Jacobson (Stéphane Dérobert), and Katherine Jacobson; and his three sisters and their spouses, Lynn and Rich Voelbel, Jeanie Morrison, Kris Jacobson and Bill Chadwick, and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by Bob Morrison.

Memorials are welcome to groups dear to Mark: Operation Bootstrap Africa (Mark and Linda Jacobson Endowed Scholarship to provide training to specialists); Global Health Ministries (for the Selian Hospice in Arusha ); or the Foundation for Cancer Care in Tanzania (Brain Cancer Initiative at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center).

Published on February 20, 2022