Dr C. Everett Koop died on February 25th; I believe that he was 96 years old at the time of his death.
Quick, can you name a Surgeon General...any Surgeon General...OTHER THAN Dr Koop? I know, that was a trick question (bad blogger!), as I know most folks can't. I can't. Yet that little trick speaks volumes about just how great of a man Dr Koop was and what kind of legacy he leaves us.
Thinking back to the 1980's, I'll state for the record that I don't consider President Reagan to have been all that great, despite the near sainthood bestowed on him by many. And I'm not going to talk about why I feel that way either, as it's not the point. What is the point is the fact that I think President Reagan did two really great things while in office:
1) He brought the country together after the Challenge explosion. I still remember his speech to the nation.
2) He kept Dr Koop in office, despite many calls by social conservatives for his ouster.
It can be said about very few of us that we truly made the world a better place after we depart, but that's most definitely true about Dr Koop. More than any other single individual, he is responsible for our nation having become much less tolerant of cigarette smoking. Enjoy smoke free eating in a restaurant? A smoke free workplace? Hell, like the fact that the vast majority of people who do smoke don't do so in their own homes? You can thank Dr Koop. As quoted from THIS ARTICLE in the New York Times:
"When Dr. Koop took office, 33 percent of Americans smoked; when he left, the percentage had dropped to 26. By 1987, 40 states had restricted smoking in public places, 33 had prohibited it on public conveyances and 17 had banned it in offices and other work sites. More than 800 local antismoking ordinances had been passed, and the federal government had restricted smoking in 6,800 federal buildings. Antismoking campaigns by private groups like the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association had accelerated."
I don't throw the word "Hero" around very often, and in fact I have an entire draft posting about who some people who get tagged as being a hero (just for breathing apparently, such as all firemen) really are not heroes. However, Dr Koop was a hero for me. He took risks not for his own glory but to simply save people's lives. He did what was right, not what was popular. He had convictions and he lived by them, even when it was detrimental.
Yes, we really can all breathe easier thanks to Dr C. Everett Koop.
Rest in Peace Dr. Koop.