When C. Everett Koop — a religious and conservative pediatric surgeon with mustache-less beard — was appointed U.S. surgeon general by President Reagan in late 1981, Americans had no idea how his service would positively affect their health.
Koop was at first looked at skeptically by the political left and then by the political right. The man who died Monday at the age of 96 simply did not care about the political ripples of his decisions.
Koop only cared about making the nation healthier and he wasn’t shy about using his Cabinet position as a bully pulpit to promote or discourage behaviors that put health and lives at risk.
The newly appointed surgeon general went after Big Tobacco out of the gate with the goal of making the United States a smoke-free nation.
His goal was not fully realized before his death, but just about everything else in his battle against smoking has come to fruition. Great strides have been made in reducing smoking and protecting Americans from second-hand smoke.
In the mid-1980s Koop took on the fight against the AIDS epidemic, despite objections from those — including some in the Reagan Administration — who saw it as a simply gay disease.
Koop brought the AIDS epidemic into the open. He looked past the hysteria to focus on how to stop the spread of AIDS with reason and good medicine.
“This silence (on AIDS) must end,” he said. And that’s what happened.
AIDS still exists but the spread of the disease has been under control for years.
No surgeon general, before or after him, has been so bold and successful.