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.