In Memoriam: LaSalle Doheny Leffall Jr., 1930-2019

LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., a long-time educator at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and the first African American president of the American Cancer Society, passed away on May 25, 2019. He was 89 years old.

Dr. Leffall began his career as an assistant professor at Howard University in 1962. He was named chair of the department of surgery only eight years later, a position he held for 25 years. In 1992, he was named the Charles R. Drew Professor, making him the first endowed chair in the history of Howard’s surgery department. He also served as chair of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (now Susan G. Komen for the Cure) from 2002 to 2007 and from 2011 to 2012, as well as chair of the President’s Cancer Panel from 2002 to 2011.

In addition to his extensive career at Howard University, Dr. Leffall was very involved in many professional organization. He was the first African American to serve as national president of the American Cancer Society, where he focused attention on the increasing incidence and mortality of cancer among Black Americans, creating an innovative program to address cancer disparities among ethnic populations. He also served as the first African American president of the Society of Surgical Oncology, the Society of Surgical Chairmen, and the American College of Surgeons.

For his many contributions to the field of medicine, Dr. Leffall earned many awards throughout his career. He received the honored Howard College of Medicine faculty award over 30 times. In 2011, he received the W. Montague Cobb Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Medical Association. At the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he was honored with the Commander’s Award for Public Service as the Principal Civilian Consultant to the General Surgery Service for 30 years from 1970 to 2000.

Dr. Leffall was a native of Tallahassee, Florida, who graduated from high school at just 15 years old. He went on to graduate summa cum laude from Florida A&M University. After earning his undergraduate degree, he received his medical degree from the Howard University College of Medicine, where he graduated first in his class.

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  1. The death of cancer among African Americans is due to polluted environmental exposure in predominate African American dwellings. Poor air pollution damages the delicate cellular DNA upon exposure through inhalation. If not repaired through body’s own internal repair system it will eventually be left unrepaired and head down the path from damage to mutation and eventually to cancer formation and this may take years. Dieting without a fasting break or eating red meat on excess only worsens conditions by allowing cancerous cells to grow and devide uncontrollably. Rip, Dr. Lefall, the battle is yet to be over but, with education and interventions, a victory for my beautiful black people.

  2. I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Dr. Laffall on the campus of FAMU where I was a professor in the college of pharmacy. He returned to his alma mater to promote his latest volume. Intermittently while he signed books on campus, we chatted about number of matters. He was a gentleman and a scholar, but most of all, he was treasured gift to his patients.

    Dr. Laffall will be greatly missed…


  3. 50 years ago, I was a pharmaceutical rep. for Abbott Laboratories and Dr. Laffall was one of the doctors I called on at the old Freedmen’s Hospital. One day I ran into Dr. Laffall in front of the hospital, and while reaching out to shake his hand, my left leg gave way and I fell down. Sensing something was wrong, Dr. Laffall helped me up and took me to his office. He found a tumor in my thigh the size of a gold ball and told me it should be removed. He did the surgery and I haven’t had a problem since. I will never forget this and the way he always conducted himself when I talked with him. Good person and doctor.

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