C. Everett Koop Mourned

Remembered for his stands on smoking and AIDS, he may have been the most famous surgeon general in U.S. history.

Public health organizations and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius paid tribute Feb. 25 to Dr. C. Everett Koop, a former surgeon general who blazed a difficult trail for other surgeon generals to follow. Koop, who served from 1982 to 1989 after surviving a confirmation fight when pro-choice forces feared he would be a strong voice against abortion, became a stalwart champion against smoking and is best known for a sound federal AIDS and HIV prevention policy.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius posted a statement about his death: "I am deeply saddened by the passing of former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. Dr. Koop was a fearless public servant and a pioneering pediatric surgeon. I was honored to have worked with him on several occasions. During his nearly eight years as 'America's Family Doctor,' he not only advised Americans about improving their health, he brought important public health issues to the country's attention. He was an important and early voice in the fight against AIDS, and will long be remembered as the Surgeon General who educated America about this disease. Dr. Koop was also vocal about reducing tobacco use and stopping people from taking up smoking. While Surgeon General, he issued eight reports on tobacco, including the nation's first on the health consequences of secondhand smoke exposure. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, and we are grateful for his public service."

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, issued this statement: "With heavy hearts, we pay tribute to our friend and colleague, C. Everett Koop, MD, ScD, who passed away today. He was 96. When you look back at the last 75 years, it's impossible to bring up our nation's greatest heroes and not mention the contributions of Dr. Koop. He had three careers. First, he was a trailblazer who led the effort to found the specialty of pediatric surgery; he then completed his amazing tenure as our 13th surgeon general; and finally, in his post-surgeon general years, he served as a mentor to the nation and a voice of reason on the importance of population health. He was a vigorous advocate who used his position as the nation's 'Top Doc' to inform us all about a range of health threats, from HIV/AIDS to tobacco. His efforts were masterful and effective. He awoke a sleeping nation to the risks of HIV/AIDS and prodded policymakers, including a president, to take action on leading public health concerns.

"We have made significant progress in HIV/AIDS research and prevention, thanks in large part to Dr. Koop's advocacy efforts. With 'Understanding AIDS,' a letter he sent to every American household, Dr. Koop made AIDS prevention a top priority and sparked groundbreaking advances in science, medicine and healthy behavior. Dr. Koop's call for a smoke-free society nearly 30 years ago led to continuous declines in tobacco use, the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. During his seven years in office, the percentage of smokers dropped from 34 percent to 26 percent of the nation's population. In 1989, APHA presented him with the Award of Excellence for 'exceptionally meritorious contribution to the improvement of health of the people.' The health and well-being of millions of people around the world are his legacy. APHA extends its deepest condolences to Dr. Koop's wife and family, and celebrates the life of a true national hero."

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    April 2021


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