Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
A tribute to C. Everett Koop
Commitment to service, loyalty to science, and passion for public health were the hallmarks of Dr. C. Everett Koop’s career. His death in February, 2013 at the age of 96 is a reminder that one determined person with the courage to look past ideology and on to the greater good can make an enormous difference.
That determination and courage wasn’t what many people expected when Dr. Koop—“Chick” to his friends—was nominated for the position of US Surgeon General by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. The opposition to his appointment from progressives in Congress, women’s rights groups, and a host of health-related organizations was ferocious, largely because of his well-known moral opposition to abortion and his lack of any apparent public health experience.
However, after a bitter confirmation process, Koop began to win his critics over, not only because he had an authority that commanded attention, but also because he spoke truth to power. He said things in public that angered the politicians who had promoted his appointment, he never equivocated, and he didn’t back down. Koop became the nation’s doctor.
The four of us worked with Dr. Koop in different capacities, but to each of us, he was a colleague, mentor, and friend, a man we deeply admired.
Early in his tenure, Koop began to take on the tobacco industry, releasing data-filled report after report demonstrating the health hazards of smoking. He pushed for much stronger warnings on cigarette packs and …