LaSalle Leffall
National Visionary

Born in 1920 in Tallahassee, Florida

Surgeon, oncologist and medical educator

LaSalle Leffall’s concern for the health of minorities is evident throughout his career.  Currently the Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., and chairman of the board of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, he is a surgeon, oncologist, medical educator, and leader in professional and civic organizations. In May 2002, he was appointed by President George W. Bush as chairman of the President’s Cancer Panel.

Lefall as a boy
Born in Tallahassee, Florida in 1920, Leffall grew up in nearby Quincy. He earned a B.S. degree, summa cum laude, from Florida A&M College and an M.D. degree from Howard University College of Medicine, ranking first in his class. He continued his medical training as an intern at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri; assistant resident in surgery at Freedmen’s Hospital; assistant resident in surgery at D.C. General Hospital; chief resident in surgery at Freedmen’s Hospital; and senior fellow in Cancer Surgery, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Leffall served as Chief of General Surgery, U.S. Army Hospital, Munich, Germany, before joining the Howard University faculty in 1962. In 1970, he became chairman of the Department of Surgery, a position he held for 25 years.

His professional life has been devoted to the study of cancer, especially as it relates to African Americans. In 1979, as National President of the American Cancer Society, he launched a program to study increases in cancer incidence and mortality among African Americans and their implications for similar studies in other racial and ethnic minorities. In 1987, an award — the biennial LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr. Award — was established by M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute and Intercultural Cancer Council of Houston, Texas, in recognition of his contributions to cancer prevention, treatment, and education in minority and economically disadvantaged communities.

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
A diplomate of the American Board of Surgery and fellow of the American College of Surgeons and American College of Gastroenterology, Leffall has been visiting professor and guest lecturer at more than 200 medical institutions in the U.S. and around the world. He has authored or coauthored more than 130 articles and book chapters. He served as the principal civilian consultant to the Army’s General Surgery Service and the Department of Surgery for 25 years (1970-1995) and received the Commander’s Award for Public Service from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 1995. In 1998, he became chairman of the steering committee of the National Dialogue on Cancer. In 2001, he received the first Heritage Award given by the Society of Surgical Oncology to a past president for significant contributions to oncology.

His memoirs, Equanimity Under Duress: A Surgeon’s Memoirs and Grace Notes, were published by Howard University Press in 2003.  He and his wife, Ruthie, have one son.


Leffall's biography on Answers.com

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