May 29, 2008

All of us at SF Bay PSR mourn the loss of Dr. Leonard, a great friend and supporter of our chapter, husband of Steering Committee member Pearl Leonard, and a major contributor to public health.

Dr. Leonard was remembered in a piece in the SF Chronicle—reprinted below, and a piece in the Oakland Tribune. We will have more information about opportunities to honor Dr. Leonard as it becomes available.

Alvin Leonard dies – public health advocate
Sabin Russell, Chronicle Medical Writer
Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dr. Alvin Leonard, a onetime director of public health for the city of Berkeley who mixed his passion for medicine with a commitment to peace, has died of pneumonia. He was 90.

A lifelong advocate for public health, he urged employees in the city health department to run up and down stairs decades before the advice became trendy. He launched a campaign to promote use of seat belts before they were made standard equipment in U.S. automobiles.

He helped to establish the Berkeley Free Clinic, monitored sanitary conditions at the request of Native Americans during their 1969 occupation of Alcatraz, and counted among his most satisfying achievements his arrest during a protest at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site in 1988.

“He was the kind of person who engendered trust. He was clearly there to help people,” said his daughter, Cathy Leonard.

Dr. Leonard was Berkeley’s public health director from 1957 to 1970, and after teaching for five years at the University of Arizona he returned to California for a variety of posts in state and county health departments.

Dr. Dileep Bal, the former chief of the Cancer Control Section for the California Department of Health Services, remembered Dr. Leonard as a “friend, mentor and my guru.” An early anti-smoking advocate, Dr. Leonard advised Bal during the creation of the state health department’s tobacco control section.

“Al was a very low-key, understated, modest man – of giant intellect,” said Bal. “He was one of the unrecognized geniuses of public health in this country.”

Among his achievements was the establishment of statewide programs to control high blood pressure among different ethnic group.

Dr. Leonard retired in 1984, but continued to consult on public health affairs for decades. He was a picture of health himself, rising at 6 a.m. to jog through the Berkeley hills five days a week. He continued that ritual past his 90th birthday in January, until he fell ill with pneumonia in February. He died at Alta Bates Medical Center April 20.

Born in New York City, he was raised in Los Angeles and graduated from UCLA in 1938. He graduated at the head of his class at the University of Southern California Medical School in 1942.

He joined the U.S. Army in 1943, and served in Europe as an anesthesiologist in the 5th Auxiliary Surgical Group. His family said that the experience led him to become a pacifist. He was active in the organization Physicians for Social Responsibility, a leading organization of doctors opposing the use and spread of nuclear weapons.

Dr. Leonard is survived by his wife, Pearl of Berkeley; and daughters Barbara of Levallois-Perret, France, and Cathy of Richmond.

A memorial service is being planned. Donations can be made in Dr. Leonard’s name to Physicians for Social Responsibility, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, 2288 Fulton St., Suite 307, Berkeley, Ca., 94704.