The (not quite) Unsung Hero

C. Everett Koop. "Ira Byock". Dartmo...

C. Everett Koop. “Ira Byock”. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center . . Retrieved 2007-08-14 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday the world lost a great man. It was no great tragedy, Dr. C. Everett Koop lived a very full, very long life. Not many of of us get to ninety-six. Still, the loss of this man pains me. As with most people, there have been many celebrities that I have casually labeled as a personal hero. Each of these had some hand in forming the person I am today, from the morals I learned from Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie, to the personal courage I learned from Christine Jorgensen. Dr. Koop was different and more important in two key ways.
For starters, Pete and Arlo are icons from my young childhood (I still love them, however.) Christine was important to me as an adult realizing my  gender identity struggles. The former Surgeon General was my first “hero” as an awakening, adolescent mind. In many ways he was the first hero of my adult life, though I wasn’t quite an adult when he first came into my consciousness.
Beyond that though, and more significant, is what he represented. Dr. Koop was dedicated to caring for others, but also to the truth. He would not manufacture facts to support his views or those in power who he answered to. He took on unpopular positions, because that is where reason brought him. He refused to lie about the health risks of properly performed abortions. He insisted on action to fight the AIDS epidemic when many on the far right, those who the administration he served under often pandered to, were praising the disease as “God’s punishment.”
It was from him that I learned that smart people could think outside the narrow confines of public policy discussion in our country. He taught me that “Republican” and “Democrat” are just labels and that calling yourself one or the other does not decide every detail of your moral and ethical being. He was not the last such teacher, later David Souter would fill a similar role, but he was the first, and I cannot begin to discharge my debt to his example and memory.
He served his country as a sailor, a doctor, and a public health advocate with quiet dignity and passion. He did all this despite, or perhaps because of, great personal tragedy in his life. He was a compassionate being who dedicated his life to the care of children. There have been few like him over the years, but I sincerely hope that his legacy will be carried on, in myself, and in others who serve the search for peace and truth. Rest in Peace C. Everett Koop, you earned it.


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