Farewell to a great public servant

Too often, deeply religious men and women are branded as unqualified for public service roles helping others, solely because of their faith. They are labeled “too extreme” and rejected out of hand.

Dr. C. Everett Koop, who served as U.S. surgeon general from 1981-89, was a shining example of why such prejudice can be a disservice to the very people it purports to defend.

Koop, who died recently at age 96, was a committed evangelical Christian who, when nominated by then-President Ronald Reagan, was opposed by many liberal politicians. His background was objected to by, among others, AIDS activists who assumed he would have no compassion for those afflicted by the disease.

But Koop promised to do his job as the nation’s top public health official – and he did. During his tenure, AIDS became a top priority for research and education.

Before he left office, Koop found himself idolized by many AIDS activists. During speaking engagements, some who booed other government officials took up the chant, “Koop, Koop!” in appreciation of his efforts.

Koop did much, much more, including a campaign against smoking that probably saved many lives.

His career in public service was one in which he refused to allow the kind of prejudice that targeted him to prevent him from helping others. In that, he provided a valuable lesson.