Besides a few people I’ve been to war with, my list of heroes is like a sparse cupboard, which became a little more barren with the death of a friend today.
Dr. C. Everett Koop was a wonderful man who did more for our country than many others I’ve met (or even heard about.)
He died today at 96. So stubborn, he’s probably really torqued he didn’t hit the century mark.
We first met in 1991 when I interviewed him for a story about him, and his then-new book. He had been Surgeon General from 1992-1989. And what a tenure he had.
Picked by Ronald Reagan in 1981, Koop was said to be despised by most women, and most liberals. His confirmation was fought, tabled, then finally begrudgingly approved on its second try.
It was expected he would toe a hard-core conservative line. But boy, did he go his own way.
To the dismay … and anger of many conservatives, he very publicly advocated the use of condoms to lessen the spread of AIDS. He advocated sex-ed beginning in third grade. And though personally anti-abortion, he refused to release a White House report on the “harmful” psychological effects of abortion on women, because he said it was all opinion — with no science.
In essence, he pissed off both sides. He simply did what he did because it was best for the nation, not because of his personal beliefs, That’s not to say he gave up his principles. He simply saw ailments that needed remedies, and treated them with what his heart hold him was best. He had opinions, but said science came first.
Koop also is the reason you don’t have to sit next to a smoker on an airplane, or restaurant. He was the first to address and attack the dangers of second-hand smoke. The tobacco lobby hated him.
Reagan was pressured to fire Koop from Day 1. But never did.
Back to 1991. So I do this interview and think this guy is kind of an old grouch. But 20 minutes in, things get personal. He asked about my four children and family. How important it was I spend time with them.
He told me of his son, who died at age 20. And how the pain never leaves.
Koop then learned I was a Penn grad. It’s where Koop had spent the bulk of his career as the Chief of Pediatric Surgery. That’s where he separated conjoined twins, removed childhood tumors and repaired shattered bodies of the young victims of accidents or violence. He openly prayed at the bedside of children. He went to church the morning of a difficult surgery. He was the guy you wanted to take care of your kids.
After spending an hour talking about Philadelphia, we wrapped up. He said he’d keep in touch. Frankly, I never thought I’d hear from him again.
Then came a couple of three line letters (not emails), and a phone call more than a decade later when I was being vetted for Surgeon General. My chances of getting the job were slim, but his advice, and his example was priceless.
A gruff voice that said “Don’t let the asses treat you like a donkey. Those people down in Washington don’t know a darn thing about honor and principle. “
It was good advice, but advice can be a nickel a word. Not for him.
It was his actions that made him a man. I didn’t always agree with him, and on many social issues, I was a polar opposite.
Yet he was a man of honor and dignity. And always did what he believed was right for the nation, even if he didnt exactly match his personal views. He cared about you. He cared about me.
“Chick” Koop, I will miss you.
Most importantly, thank you.
MORE FROM CBSNEWS.COM: Koop Dies At 96