After his death was reported Monday, the tributes poured forth, including a statement from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has made smoking restrictions a hallmark of his tenure.
"The nation has lost a visionary public health leader today with the passing of former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who was born and raised in Brooklyn," Bloomberg said. "Outspoken on the dangers of smoking, his leadership led to stronger warning labels on cigarettes and increased awareness about second-hand smoke, creating an environment that helped millions of Americans to stop smoking — and setting the stage for the dramatic changes in smoking laws that have occurred over the past decade."
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health taught Koop what was known about AIDS during quiet after-hours talks in the early 1980s and became a close friend.
"A less strong person would have bent under the pressure," Fauci said. "He was driven by what's the right thing to do."
Carmona, a surgeon general years later, said Koop was a mentor who preached the importance of staying true to the science in speeches and reports — even when it made certain politicians uncomfortable.
"We remember him for the example he set for all of us," Carmona said.
Koop's nomination originally was met with staunch opposition. Women's groups and liberal politicians complained Reagan had selected him only because of his conservative views, especially his staunch opposition to abortion.
Foes noted that Koop traveled the country in 1979 and 1980 giving speeches that predicted a progression "from liberalized abortion to infanticide to passive euthanasia to active euthanasia, indeed to the very beginnings of the political climate that led to Auschwitz, Dachau and Belsen."
But Koop, a devout Presbyterian, was confirmed as surgeon general after he told a Senate panel he would not use the post to promote his religious ideology. He kept his word and eventually won wide respect with his blend of old-fashioned values, pragmatism and empathy.