Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop died Monday, prompting tributes to the 96-year-old public servant for his part in warning the nation on the risks of smoking and AIDS.
One of his last moments in the spotlight on Capitol Hill came at the height of the health care overhaul debate in November 2009, when a letter he wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was hand-delivered to Reid’s office and set off a scare. The letter appeared in Reid’s mailbox on the afternoon of Nov. 4, unstamped and with “C. Everett Koop” handwritten in the top-left corner. Staffers reported it to the Capitol Police, who thought it was unusual, moved staffers out of the office, ran tests and sent out an alert telling folks to avoid the area. It only took about an hour to clear the letter, but Koop, reached by CQ Roll Call by phone later that day, was perplexed. Then living in New Hampshire, he had typed the letter himself. “I wasn’t aware that sending a hand-delivered letter was an offense,” Koop said. “I can’t believe all this nonsense.”
The 2001 anthrax attacks are always in the back of Capitol Police officers’ minds when it comes to suspicious letters. Koop would not say who delivered the letter for him, citing “complicated” details, but he said it was a “good letter” that was “beautifully typed.”
“I did it over a weekend,” he told us at the time. “I don’t have a lot of secretarial help, and I’m 93.”