C. Everett Koop, who served as Surgeon General from 1981 to 1989 primarily under President Ronald Reagan, died at his home in Hanover, New Hampshire on Monday at the age of 96.
A pediatric surgeon, Koop was perhaps best known for his candid discussions about AIDS, about the ways the disease did–and did not–spread, and his warnings about the dangers of smoking, including second-hand smoke. Through his frank discussions about disease prevention, he raised the previously low-profile post of Surgeon General to what he termed “the health conscience of the country.”
Though an evangelical Christian conservative, Koop surprised some who shared his philosophy with his endorsement of condoms and sex education in order to stop the spread of AIDS, which hit epidemic proportions during his administration.
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1916, Koop attended Dartmouth College and then Cornell University Medical College. In 1945, he became the first surgeon-in-chief at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a post he held until his appointment as the nation’s Surgeon General.
Koop’s nomination as Surgeon General was opposed by pro-abortion groups, who feared he would use his office to promote his pro-life philosophy; Koop said his views were a result of his long career devoted to saving newborns with life-threatening birth defects. Koop avoided the issue of abortion, however, throughout his service to the nation.
Following his national service, Koop became one of the first medical doctors to use the internet to provide health information to the public, but his company failed and he filed for bankruptcy in 2001. He continued with his C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth in New Hampshire, however, even speaking from a wheelchair at age 94, when he declared himself to be “very, very deaf” and legally blind.