The following is from a eulogy for Dr. Luther Terry, the former surgeon general of the United States. It was delivered yesterday at Arlington Cemetery by Joseph A. Califano Jr., who was secretary of health, education and welfare from 1977 to 1979:
Great scientific inventions have saved millions of lives. Pasteurization of milk. Vaccines to eliminate smallpox and check childhood diseases. Antibiotics to stamp out bacterial infections. In the first part of the century, the infectious diseases these medicines conquered were the public health challenges.
Luther Terry's public-health challenge was far more difficult. It could not be met in the academic tranquillity of a laboratory or medical campus. This quiet, private man had to face his public- health challenge in public. He met that challenge. He pioneered the recognition that life style was the killer and crippler for the last half of the 20th century. He taught us that we could do more for ourselves than any doctor or hospital could do for us.
Luther Terry didn't practice public health with platitudes. He gave it to us straight and true with the first surgeon general's report on smoking and health. He tried and convicted cigarettes of murder and mayhem by cancer, heart disease, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. His findings and his soft but steady voice moved a reluctant Congress to act, first with warning labels, then with a ban on television advertising. He saved as many lives as any Salk or Pasteur or Curie. He is as much a medical giant.
But Luther Terry was more. He was a genuine hero, a man of extraordinary courage. No powerful economic forces rose up to defend polio or smallpox or unsafe milk. When Luther Terry told us of the dangers of smoking, political and financial powers of magnum force rose to attack him. His discovery was one they had tried to hide, one they didn't want to talk about. But Luther spoke out. Softly, but firmly he stood his ground. He persevered, and in the end he revolutionized our thinking about the causes of modern-day diseases.