Science & Tech

Julius B. Richmond, giant in public health and pediatrics

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Former U.S. Surgeon General, Harvard professor, dead at 91

Julius B. Richmond, a seminal figure in the history of American public health and pediatrics, and the first national director of the Head Start program, who held professorial positions at three Harvard Schools, died Sunday at his home in Chestnut Hill, MA. He was 91.

As U. S. Surgeon General in the Carter Administration, Dr. Richmond issued the momentous 1979 report Smoking and Health. As Surgeon General he also set targets for the health of the American public with the Healthy People report.

During his time at Harvard, Dr. Richmond held appointments at the Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, and the Harvard Kennedy School. HSPH’s highest honor is named for him — the Julius B. Richmond Award, which recognizes individuals who, like Dr. Richmond, have promoted and achieved high standards for public health conditions in vulnerable populations. The award was established in 1997, when Donna Shalala, Former Secretary of Health and Human Services, received it. Last year, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City was honored. Dr. Richmond was an active participant and speaker at the award ceremonies over the years.

In 2006, a celebratory symposium was held to honor the 90th birthday, life, and work of Dr. Richmond, and to launch what was then the newly established, University-wide Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.

“It was an enormous privilege for me to work with Julie during my deanship,” said Barry R. Bloom, Dean of Harvard School of Public Health. “Whether I was seeking his advice on issues of children’s health or tobacco control, honoring him at the annual Julius B. Richmond Award event, or running into him in the HSPH cafeteria which he visited regularly, he was always fully engaged in pursuing his many passionate interests in health with incredible energy. His presence will be sorely missed, but he will continue to inspire us.”

Allan M. Brandt, Kass Professor of the History of Medicine at HMS and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, called Dr. Richmond’s “contributions to medicine and public health…nothing short of legendary. He was a tireless and committed advocate for children and their well-being, here in the U.S. and around the globe,” said Brandt, who added that “as a result of his remarkable work, as a pediatrician, as a public servant, and as a champion for children and their families, millions now lead better lives.”

And Jim Yong Kim, chair of the HMS Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, noted that “through his many important roles in the academy and in government, Julius Richmond did as much to improve the health of American citizens as anyone in the last century. But by far the greatest beneficiaries of his life’s work were impoverished children and their parents in the United States and throughout the world,” Kim said. “Those of us who had the privilege of being his students and colleagues will miss him most for his warmth, sage advice on matters large and small and, most of all, his commitment to social justice that served as a moral compass for us all.”

Dr. Richmond was trained in pediatrics and child development and worked to introduce psychosocial development into pediatric education, research and services. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois in 1937 and his MD from the University of Illinois School of Medicine in 1939. He served in the Army Air Force as a flight surgeon from 1942 to 1946. He returned to the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Illinois, and served as Director of the Institute of Juvenile Research in Chicago.

In 1953, Dr. Richmond became chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at SUNY Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse. He rose to the position of Dean. During his tenure there, he completed collaborative work with Bettye Caldwell on the development of young children growing up in poverty, which led to his appointment in 1965 as the first director of the national Head Start program. He also served as assistant director for health affairs of the Office of Economic Opportunity.

From 1977 to 1981, Dr. Richmond served as U.S. Surgeon General and Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. As Surgeon General he re-invigorated tobacco control efforts through the release of the 1979 Surgeon General’s report Smoking and Health that presented considerable scientific evidence of the multiple harms of smoking. That same year, Richmond issued the landmark report, Healthy People: The Surgeon-General’s Report on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. This report established quantitative health goals for the nation for the next decade — a process later institutionalized by the government. A committed advocate, he also chaired the steering committee of the Forum on the Future of Families and Children of the National Academy of Sciences from 1987 to 1993.

Dr. Richmond served in a number of prominent positions in the Harvard community. He was Director of the Judge Baker Children’s Center from 1971 to 1977. He was the Director of the Division of Health Policy Research and Education at Harvard University. He also served as Professor of Child Psychiatry and Human Development at Harvard Medical School as well as Chairman of Psychiatry at Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Richmond received numerous awards, including the C. Anderson Aldrich Award of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Gustav O. Lienhard Award and the Walsh McDermott Medal of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the John Howland Award of the American Pediatric Society, the Sedgwick Medal from the American Public Health Association, and the Heinz Award for Public Policy.

Dr. Richmond was predeceased by his wife Rhee and his son Dale. He is survived by his wife Jean Berger Richmond; two sons, Charles (married to Jean) of Indianapolis, IN, and Barry (married to Dorothy Anne) of Bethesda, MD; two stepsons, Steven Berger (married to Elizabeth) of West Lafayette, IN, and Michael Berger (married to Barbara) of Detroit, MI; four grandsons, Joshua, Jay, Nathaniel and Ian; and five step-granddaughters, Shelly, Heather, Deborah, Shauna and Miriam.

Dr. Richmond’s family is making plans for a private funeral. A memorial service will be held in the fall. Memorial contributions may be made to The Dale and Rhee Richmond Memorial Scholarship Fund, C/O University of Chicago, 5801 South Ellis Street, 3rd Floor, Chicago, IL 60637; or the AAP — Dale Richmond/Justin Coleman Award Fund, American Academy of Pediatrics, Development Lockbox, 38367 Eagle Way, Chicago, IL 60678-1383.