Vice Admiral Julius B. Richmond:
Surgeon General and Director of
by Seymour Sy Brody
Vice Admiral Julius B. Richmond, M.D., was a pediatrician whose work on poor children led him to become the first national director of Head Start, a very successful social program. In 1977, he became the Surgeon General and Assistant Secretary of Health in the old Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He was a fierce adversary against smoking. He organized many anti–smoking campaigns and programs.
He was born on September 26, 1916, in Chicago, Illinois. He received his education during the “Great Depression.” He earned his B.S. degree at the University of Illinois, at Urbana, and his M.S. degree and M.D. degree, from Illinois College of Medicine, in Chicago, in 1939.
He did a rotating internship at the Cook County Hospital in Chicago for eighteen months. He then entered two pediatric residencies: the first at Chicago Contagious Disease Hospital, 1941-1942, and the second at Cook. The United States entry into World War II interrupted his postgraduate work. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps, February 1942. He was a flight surgeon with the Air Force’s Flying Training Command through 1946.
After the war, Richmond became a professor in Pediatrics at his alma mater, 1946-1953. During this time, he was a Markle Foundation scholar in medical science, 1948-1953. Richmond and Betty Caldwell, a colleague of his, documented how poverty threatened the psychological development of a child.
President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Sargent Shriver to head the Office of Economic Development. Shriver convinced Richmond to take a leave of absence and for him to develop two programs: Project Head Start and a series of neighborhood Health Centers. Both projects were very successful under Richmond’s leadership and guidance.
Joseph Califano was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to be the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Califano asked Richmond to return to Federal service as Assistant Secretary of Health and as the Surgeon General. He was appointed in 1977 through 1981.
Richmond became a giant on three different health fronts: First was his development of the Head Start Program, second was his health care policies and third was exposing smoking as a threat to life and campaigning against its use.
Richmond came to grips with the immigration and Naturalization Department who were preventing gay people from entering the country based on a 1952 law that barred entry to “those afflicted with psychopathic personality or sexual deviation or a mental defect. This law called for the Public Health Service to do the examinations. Dr. Richmond ordered the health service not to perform the examinations in his organization as “homosexuality will no longer be considered a mental disease or defect.”
Richmond was constantly involved in fighting for healthy conditions in the work area. In the 1980s, he testified that at two trials involving flight attendants that secondhand smoke was responsible for their ill health.
Dr. Richmond left government service and he went to Harvard University as a professor of public health, 1981-1988. Since 1988, he has been a Professor Emeritus at Harvard University.
Vice Admiral Julius B. Richmond died on July 27, 2008, at his home in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
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