Emil Corwin, who worked for FDA until age 96, dies at 107

Emil Corwin, who retired at age 96 from the Food and Drug Administration as the oldest federally employed public affairs officer, died of cardiac arrest March 15 at his home in Chevy Chase. He was 107.

Mr. Corwin, who began his career in the 1920s as a journalist in Massachusetts, joined the FDA in 1974, when he was 70. He flirted with retirement four years later but returned to his desk after a week away from work. He was quick to point out that his sons retired before he did.

As an FDA spokesman, Mr. Corwin immersed himself in public health issues and was never bored with his work, his family said.

According to a 2003 interview with FDA Consumer magazine, Mr. Corwin expertly handled questions involving spider eggs in bubble gum, rat poison in toothpaste and earthworms in hamburgers.

When he retired in 1999, Mr. Corwin was invited to the White House by President Bill Clinton for a ceremony honoring his long government career.

For his service, Mr. Corwin received an American flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 31, 1999.

Emil Joseph Corwin was born April 28, 1903, in Boston.

His father was an engraver who smoked cigars and drank a pint of sherry every day. He lived to be 110. Mr. Corwin’s brother, Norman, the award-winning radio writer and director, is 100 and lives in Los Angeles.

Mr. Corwin’s wife of 56 years, Freda Feder Corwin, died in 1991.

Besides his brother, survivors include two sons, Thomas Corwin of Cambridge, Mass., and William Corwin of Princeton, N.J.

Mr. Corwin graduated from what is now the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1925.

After working as a reporter for the Springfield Republican, he moved to New York and joined NBC, where he did promotional work for celebrities such as Arturo Toscanini, conductor of the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Corwin started working for the federal government in the early 1940s at the Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service. After World War II, he moved to Rome to work for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

In 1965, after working in public relations for the American Cancer Society, Mr. Corwin returned to federal service as a press officer with the old Office of Smoking and Health, a position he held until joining the FDA.

Mr. Corwin attributed his longevity to the piano, an instrument he played throughout his life.

“He has very young hands,” his piano instructor, Anadel Rich, told The Washington Post in 2003, noting that Mr. Corwin’s repertoire included tangos by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. “It’s wonderful to watch him play — the years just melt off of him.”

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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