Former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop, Pioneering Pediatric Surgeon, Public Health Leader and Dartmouth Graduate, Dies at 96
February 25, 2013
HANOVER, N.H.—Former Surgeon General of the United States C. Everett Koop, MD, a pioneer in the field of pediatric surgery, a leader in the fight to create a smoke-free nation, and founder of the C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, died peacefully in his home in Hanover, N.H. on Monday, February 25, 2013. He was 96 years old.
A 1937 graduate of Dartmouth, Dr. Koop was known as “America’s Family Doctor” during his time as Surgeon General of the United States from November 1981 until October 1989. Surgeon General Koop applied his skills as a clinician and healer to address the health challenges of all Americans and all people worldwide. During his tenure, he continued the fight against tobacco and focused new national attention on diet and nutrition, the benefits of physical activity, mental health issues, environmental health hazards, disease prevention, and health promotion. At a time of a new emerging threat to the public’s health, Dr. Koop became the voice of calm and compassion, of knowledge and facts as the federal government’s chief spokesperson and educator on HIV/AIDS. Using the best science and evidence he spoke candidly and honestly to young and old to address the many dimensions of this threatening disease.
Dr. Koop did more than take care of his individual patients—he taught all of us about critical health issues that affect our larger society. Through that knowledge, he empowered each of us to improve our own well-being and quality of life. Dr. Koop‘s commitment to education allowed him to do something most physicians can only dream of: improving the health of millions of people worldwide.
—Dartmouth President Carol L. Folt
Known for his trademark bowties, suspenders, and clipped beard, Dr. Koop, belovedly called “Chick” by his friends, was the first official to call for a “smoke-free nation.” He made history in 1988 with a landmark Surgeon General report, “The Health Consequences of Smoking-Nicotine Addiction,” credited with beginning the changing of the tide in public attitudes and public acceptance of smoking. He highlighted the dangers of second hand smoke to the non-smoker, raising the debate to address the harm for all exposed, and called for consistent warning labels on all tobacco packaging.
“Dr. Koop did more than take care of his individual patients—he taught all of us about critical health issues that affect our larger society,” said Dartmouth President Carol L. Folt. “Through that knowledge, he empowered each of us to improve our own well-being and quality of life. Dr. Koop‘s commitment to education allowed him to do something most physicians can only dream of: improving the health of millions of people worldwide.”
Wiley W. Souba, MD, Dean of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, said, “Dr. Koop has had a profound influence on the health of all of us in our nation. We have been fortunate to have him in our midst at Dartmouth and at the Geisel School of Medicine. He constantly reminded us of the important lessons that he learned in his professional life of caring for children that could show us how to provide healthcare for people of all ages.
“Dr. Koop was not only a pioneering pediatric surgeon but also one of the most courageous and passionate public health advocates of the past century,” said Souba. “He did not back down from deeply rooted health challenges or powerful interests that stood in the way of needed change. Instead, he fought, he educated, and he transformed lives for the better.”
In 2003, Dr. Koop donated many of his papers to the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. This collection, containing material from 1937-2003, documents his activities as Surgeon General during the 1980s and the many public health issues with which he was concerned. Speeches, articles, briefings, presentations, and letters tell the story of a career that took Dr. Koop from Cornell Medical College to Surgeon-in-Chief of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to the highest medical post in the land.
Dr. Koop was not only a pioneering pediatric surgeon but also one of the most courageous and passionate public health advocates of the past century. He did not back down from deeply rooted health challenges or powerful interests that stood in the way of needed change. Instead, he fought, he educated, and he transformed lives for the better.
—Wiley W. Souba, MD
Dean of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth
Joseph O’Donnell, MD, professor of medicine and psychiatry at Geisel and long-time friend of the former Surgeon General, said: “Having Dr. Koop here was like having a treasure in our midst. He always kept the health of the public in focus and showed us all—students, faculty, staff and communities—how to be advocates for change.”
Dr. Koop was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Oct. 14, 1916, graduated from Dartmouth College in 1937, with a degree in zoology, and received his MD degree from Cornell Medical College in 1941. After serving an internship at the Pennsylvania Hospital, he pursued postgraduate training at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Graduate School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he received the degree of Doctor of Science (Medicine) in 1947. He was named Professor of Pediatric Surgery at the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1959 and Professor of Pediatrics in 1971. He also served as Surgeon-in-Chief of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Professor of Pediatric Surgery and Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania. Many future leaders of pediatric surgery trained under him.
Dr. Koop was sworn in as the nation’s 13th Surgeon General on Nov. 17, 1981, appointed to the post by President Reagan. Additionally, he was appointed Director of the Office of International Health in May 1982. As Surgeon General, he oversaw the activities of the 6,000 member U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, in addition to advising the president and the public on health matters such as smoking, diet and nutrition, and the importance of immunization and disease prevention. Specific responsibilities included serving as an ex-officio member of the Board of Regents, National Library of Medicine; Board of Regents, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; Board of Directors, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology; and the Board of Governors, Gorgas Memorial Institute. His lasting legacy as our Surgeon General was to use best evidence rather than politics to inform decisions about health topics.
Serving with Dr. Koop as an Assistant Surgeon General, Woodie Kessel, MD, MPH—now a fellow of the Koop Institute at Dartmouth—said, “Dr. Koop will be remembered for his colossal contributions to the health and well-being of all mankind and as one of our greatest Surgeons General. Dr. Koop was a dear, dear friend and mentor; I was in awe of his passion for children and his extraordinary ability to engage the public and simultaneously disarm his detractors with great wit, wisdom and charm.”
In 1992, Dr. Koop returned to Dartmouth to establish the C. Everett Koop Institute, a partnership of educators, scholars, researchers, and practicing physicians dedicated to developing programs addressing critical health care issues. He envisioned the newly created Institute as a place that would shape medical school curricula to create “a doctor for the 21st Century, grounded in science and Hippocratic principles, but infused with the necessity of focusing on the needs of the individual, the family and the community.”
Having Dr. Koop here was like having a treasure in our midst. He always kept the health of the public in focus and showed us all—students, faculty, staff and communities—how to be advocates for change.
—Joseph O’Donnell, MD
Professor of medicine and psychiatry
Under Dr. Koop‘s leadership, Dartmouth’s medical school led the way in promoting mentoring relationships between medical students and practicing physicians, and in creating curricula that investigated medicine from a holistic perspective. While at Dartmouth, Dr. Koop also was the Elizabeth DeCamp McInerny Professor of Surgery.
Dr. Koop‘s leadership at Dartmouth led to the founding of the Dartmouth Center on Addictions, Recovery and Education (DCARE). One of its most successful endeavors is the Koop Scholar program through which medical, graduate, public health, and undergraduate programs tackled mentored projects on issues of addictions and met with Dr. Koop monthly. Another DCARE program set the stage for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to become a tobacco-free facility and have carefully trained tobacco treatment specialists. Each year, the medical center hosts an annual Koop Tobacco Treatment Conference that focuses on new developments in that field. Together with the medical center’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center, the Koop Institute also sponsors an annual C. Everett Koop Future of Medicine lectureship, bringing luminaries to campus to honor Dr. Koop‘s legacy and discuss creative ways to address health care’s most vexing challenges.
Dr. Koop received numerous honors and awards, including 17 honorary doctorates. He was awarded the Denis Brown Gold Medal by the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons; the William E. Ladd Gold Medal of the American Academy of Pediatrics in recognition of outstanding contributions to the field of pediatric surgery; the Order of Duarte, Sanchez and Mella, the highest award of the Dominican Republic, for his achievement in separating conjoined Dominican twins; and a number of other awards. He was awarded the Medal of the Legion of Honor by France in 1980, inducted into the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1982, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.
Dr. Koop was a dear, dear friend and mentor; I was in awe of his passion for children and his extraordinary ability to engage the public and simultaneously disarm his detractors with great wit, wisdom and charm.
—Woodie Kessel, MD, MPH, Koop Institute Fellow, Former Assistant Surgeon General
In May 1983, Dr. Koop received the Public Health Service Distinguished Service Medal in recognition of his extraordinary leadership of the U.S. Public Health Service. In September 1995, President Clinton awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.
Dr. Koop was a member of the American Surgical Association, the Society of University Surgeons, the American Pediatric Surgical Association, and other professional societies. A Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the American Academy of Pediatrics, he held membership in many international organizations. He also was author of more than 200 articles and books on the practice of medicine.
Dr. Koop was predeceased by his first wife, the former Elizabeth Flanagan, in 2007, and by their son, David ’69. He is survived by their three children, Allen Koop ’65, a visiting professor of history at Dartmouth; the Rev. Norman Koop, who is affiliated with the Dartmouth College Campus Ministers; and Elizabeth Thompson; his wife, the former Cora Hogue, whom he married on April 17, 2010; and eight grandchildren, including Jennifer Koop ’92, and Heather Koop Fulton ’95.