Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, a pediatric surgeon turned public health advocate, died Monday. He was 96.
Koop served as surgeon general from 1982 to 1989, under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
He was outspoken on controversial public health issues and did much to raise the profile the office of the surgeon general.
He died peacefully at his home in Hanover, New Hampshire, Dartmouth College said in a news release announcing his death.
“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.”
Koop, called “Chick” by his friends, was perhaps best known for his work around HIV/AIDS. He wrote a brochure about the disease that was sent to 107 million households in the United States in 1988. It was the largest public health mailing ever, according to a biography of Koop on a website of the surgeon general.
When Koop was first nominated he was strongly opposed by the left who feared his was a religious ideologue. But in office he proved to be a man who put science first. At a time when AIDS was virtually a taboo subject among politicians and the religious right advocated teaching “abstinence only”, Koop went rogue and came out bluntly in favor of sex education and condom use. He also refused to endorse a report released in his name that warned of long-term health consequences of abortion.
He is arguably the most famous Surgeon General in history. May he rest in peace.