As the nation mourned the death of its most renowned public health administrator, one of Spokane’s most venerable retired physicians remembered the friend she once helped in medical school.
That former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop rose to prominence by warning the public about the dangers of smoking and pressing the Reagan administration to take a more aggressive stand against AIDS came as no surprise to Dr. Elizabeth Welty, who spoke of her old friend Tuesday in her south Spokane home. Koop died Monday in Hanover, N.H., at age 96.
“He was quite the talker,” Welty said of Koop, and he had a “rare ability to persuade people.”
Koop’s gift of gab was what Welty remembered most about her former classmate. The two attended medical school together at Cornell University in New York, class of 1941.
Welty, having graduated from Mount Holyoke, a women’s college in Massachusetts, didn’t have many male companions. Koop, who had attended Dartmouth College, was somebody to talk to, or at least listen to, on walks after class. The two became good friends.
When Koop broke his leg in a skiing accident, Welty brought him her notes to study while he was laid up for about a month. Koop mentioned the kindness to a mutual friend during a visit to Spokane many years later. In fact, he said, he owed his career to her.
“It was courteous of him to mention it,” Welty said, dismissing the significance of her efforts. “He was smart enough to have caught up.”
After medical school, they went their separate ways and rarely saw each other, but Welty remembers Koop as a “no-nonsense man” who had the courage to “stand up for what is right.”
Welty completed her residency at the University of Pennsylvania, where she met Robert Welty, of Spokane, who was finishing his residency as well. The two married in the fall of 1948 and moved to Spokane, where they each opened practices in the Paulsen Building.
They practiced medicine for 36 years, he as a surgeon and she as an internist. Robert Welty died in 1989.
Welty, who will celebrate her 98th birthday in March, is known for her generous support of the arts, including the Spokane Symphony, the Spokane Youth Symphony, the Museum of Arts and Culture, and the Fox Theater fund-raising campaign. She has sat on the boards of the symphony, Spokane Public Radio and the Visiting Nurses Association, and she remains a supporter of the YWCA and Campfire USA, among other civic groups.
Welty praised Koop as someone who “was respectful of obligations.”
The same could be said of the woman who has given much to her community.
“It’s the doing that is important in life,” Welty said.