C. Everett Koop, former US Surgeon General, passed away February 25 at age 96. Here’s how I remember him.
I was a school administrator when President Reagan nominated C. Everett Koop as Surgeon General for the United States. I recall Koop's appearing in front of congressional committees and the intense questioning that he was subjected to. However, what struck me then and later was his Lincoln-esque, statue-like appearance and his mannerisms. He appeared to be a man living ahead of his time and yet holding values from an earlier time.
I say "ahead of his time" because as a surgeon in Philadelphia he performed groundbreaking surgical procedures on conjoined twins, invented techniques which today are commonly used for infant surgery, and saved the lives of countless children who otherwise might have been allowed to die. And I say "values from an earlier time" because he refused to leave prayer and the power of spirit out of his healing work both as a surgeon and as a policymaker. He was intelligent, and a risk taker, but it was his wisdom that gave his words meaning. He seemed professionally sure of himself, and yet his actions showed great love and compassion for his patients. And yes, he evened prayed at the bedsides of those to whom he administered medical and surgical care, much to the chagrin of many of his colleagues.
Because of Koop’s early efforts to explain the cause of the disease called AIDS to the public, I was able as superintendent of schools to help a community work through its fear in dealing with AIDS when the first teacher in the state was identified with the disease. Koop’s foresight and national public education programs helped parents and community leaders deal with a new (at that time) and dangerous disease.