Dr. Anthony Stephen Fauci didn’t grow up wanting to be famous. Mostly he just wanted to make a difference. But now a lifetime of service has flicked on a searing spotlight.

Perhaps not since the late actor Jack Palance did one-armed push-ups at the 1991 Oscars at age 73 – YouTube it, millennials – has the nation been this seduced by a senior citizen.

By virtue of his calm, Brooklyn-inflected White House briefings on coronavirus that frequently if diplomatically contradict statements by President Donald Trump, Fauci, 79, has become a meme, spawned fan clubs and been lovingly parodied by Brad Pitt.

Fauci’s longtime official title is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health. But since becoming the face of this country’s COVID-19 pandemic, the career immunologist who has battled everything from AIDS to Ebola is increasingly referred to as America’s Doctor.

And he’s in the headlines again this week, having been barred by the White House from addressing House lawmakers Wednesday on the topic of the administration’s response to the crisis. Instead, Fauci will meet with a GOP-led subcommittee on May 12.

So just who is Tony Fauci?Interviews with friends and colleagues offer overlapping descriptions of a man as dedicated to hard work – endless hours peppered with power walks – as he is to his wife, scientist Christine Grady, and three accomplished daughters.

They describe a man who takes as much pride in his Bolognese pasta sauce (the key, one friend says, is the long-simmering time) as he does in enduring relationships. He’s a burger and beer at the bar guy, but also a public servant built for our trying times.

“Tony’s capable of elevating his game to whatever is needed, and more has been demanded of him now than in any time in his career,” says Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. “In the eyes of the American public, he’s the voice we need right now, one of credibility.”

Steven Gabbe met Fauci when both were at Cornell Medical College in New York City in the late 1960s, and “the person you see now on TV is the same guy I met back then, smart and humble.”

Gabbe, emeritus CEO of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, lauds his friend’s sense of humor. “I’m sure he finds it entertaining that there are bobblehead dolls of him now,” he says. “But he’s so grounded I don’t think it would go to his head.”

Fauci would be excused it if did. In a recent survey of 1,900 registered U.S. voters, Morning Consult asked respondents whom they would trust “a lot” or “some” to end social distancing. Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention topped the list among all voters with 71% trust ratings.