Former surgeon general C. Everett Koop has passed away at the age of the 96. Koop — who described himself as “the health conscience of the country” — was a surprising advocate of comprehensive sex education, despite the fact that he was a staunch social conservative, as a method of combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He also championed anti-smoking campaigns and hoped to reach a day when smoking was completely eradicated in the United States.
Appointed under Ronald Reagan in 1981, Koop brought valuable exposure to an HIV epidemic that Americans were only slowly becoming aware of. In 1988, he orchestrated the largest public health mailing in history by sending an educational AIDS pamphlet to more than 100 million U.S. households — without the Reagan administration’s blessing. Although Koop himself remained “opposed” to homosexuality, he insisted that Americans deserved accurate medical information to safeguard their sexual health and avoid preventable deaths from AIDS.
Koop’s legacy lives on, and the public health campaigns he pushed have seen huge successes over the past few decades. Teen smoking rates have recently dropped to record lows, and the United Nations now believes an end to the global HIV/AIDS epidemic is “in sight.”