William H. McBeath, M.D., M.P.H., APHA Executive Director, 1973-1993

Presentations of Three Former APHA Executive Directors

Not long ago, I was standing on a grassy knoll under a tree in the Lakeview Cemetery in Skaneateles, New York, and by me was a tombstone that had inscribed on it: “Stephen Smith, 1823-1922, A Loving Physician, Author, Humanitarian.” I thought a lot about Dr. Stephen Smith, who was the first president of APHA, as I prepared for this evening, and I also thought about other APHA past presidents, who have been a distinguished array of persons of broad perspective and range of interests, not unlike Stephen Smith.

One can see how the ontogeny (growth and development) of his professional career recapitulates the phylogeny (evolutionary history) of APHA, as reflected in tonight’s program. He was exemplary in almost every area of public health that=s been mentioned tonight. He had a very clean code of personal hygiene that was part of health promotion that helped him to live just a few months short of 100 years. He was committed to medical care during the time of the Civil War as a distinguished Bellevue Hospital health officer and Civil War surgeon, and later as a hospital director. In his career as a surgeon, the story is well known how he saw the cause of the typhus epidemic that he was dealing with at Bellevue as the environment in the tenements of New York City. It led him to government. It led him to the infrastructure. It led him to be concerned about the people. He wrote the first sanitary code of New York City. He was Health Commissioner in New York City and Commissioner of Charities of New York State. He was an advocate and first member of the National Medical Board. He in so many ways exemplified the concerns and interests of the past presidents here tonight.

We owe a great debt to all of them. They have led us in ways that were important in their years and will continue to do so in the future. As I listened to Barry’s address this morning, I thought about the vision, values, and leadership of Stephen Smith and these people. If we had the breadth of vision that they had, if we had the depth of commitment to their values, if we are to continue to be blessed in this association with the style of leadership that they have shown us, we will be worthy followers.

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