S. Paul Ehrlich, 72, acting Surgeon General under Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter and U.S. representative to the World Health Organization, died of pneumonia Jan. 6 at Bethesda Memorial Hospital in Boynton Beach, Fla., near where he lived for the past eight years. He had multiple sclerosis.
Dr. Ehrlich, who was appointed by President Richard M. Nixon in 1973 and served until 1977, was among six Surgeons General who in 1994 urged Congress to ban smoking in public buildings and to enact stricter controls on secondhand smoke and the sale and advertising of tobacco.
S. Paul Ehrlich sought a ban on smoking in public buildings and stricter controls on secondhand smoke and tobacco sales.
He also appeared with other former officeholders to oppose a proposed federal policy responding to the spread of AIDS by requiring minors to get parental consent before receiving contraceptives and information on birth control.
The Surgeon General's job has been politically controversial for years; in 1998, Dr. Ehrlich told students at Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health that his biggest accomplishment was simply keeping the office open. He is also credited with saving the U.S. Public Health Service's commissioned corps.
"He did more than anyone I've ever known for American health," Dr. C. Everett Koop, Surgeon General under President Reagan, told the Associated Press. "The role of a man like Paul Ehrlich is not to make big discoveries or to move mountains. . . . It is to provide the steady, experienced leadership for the public health in this country."
Born in Minneapolis, he earned two bachelor's degrees at the University of Minnesota, one in 1953 and the other in 1955. Two years later, he received his medical degree there. He served as a medical officer in the Coast Guard and then earned a master's degree in public health at the University of California at Berkeley in 1961.
Dr. Ehrlich worked for the Public Health Service for 25 years. He researched the relationship of cholesterol to heart disease and then became director of the Office of International Health, representing the United States at the World Health Organization. At age 38, he became one of the youngest people to achieve a flag rank in the Public Health Service's uniformed services.
After four years as acting Surgeon General, he was vice president of the American Institutes for Research and deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization, part of the World Health Organization.
He taught at Georgetown University's School of Medicine, the University of Texas School of Public Health and the School of Public Health at the University of California at Berkeley.
He received the Public Health Service's Outstanding Service Medal, the Distinguished Service Medal and Meritorious Service Medal.
He retired after the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 1981.
Survivors include his wife of 45 years, Geraldine McKenna Ehrlich of Delray Beach, Fla.; three daughters, Susan Ehrlich of San Francisco, Paul Ehrlich of Hendricks, Pa., and Jill Ehrlich Robinson of Ankara, Turkey; and a grandson.