Dr. Saul Paul Ehrlich Jr., an epidemiologist and the acting Surgeon General under Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter, died on Jan. 6 of pneumonia. He was 72.
Ehrlich always wanted to become a doctor. The son of a physician, he earned two bachelor’s degrees and his medical degree at the University of Minnesota. Ehrlich served as a medical officer in the Coast Guard, interned at the Public Health Service Hospital in Staten Island, then did his residency in epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a master’s degree in 1961.
For the next two decades, Ehrlich devoted his life to public service. He researched the relationship of cholesterol to heart disease with the National Heart Institute and represented the United States at the World Health Organization as the director of the Office of International Health.
When Dr. Jesse L. Steinfeld quit the Surgeon General’s post in 1973, President Richard M. Nixon appointed Ehrlich to fill in. For the next four years, he worked hard to make the office relevant and useful to the public. Ehrlich saved the Public Health Service’s Commissioned Corps from budget cuts and developed a hotline for Iron Curtain countries to communicate with the United States.
In 1994, Ehrlich was one of six Surgeons General who urged Congress to ban smoking in public buildings and to enact stricter controls on secondhand smoke. He also protested a proposed federal policy that would have responded to the spread of AIDS by requiring minors to obtain written parental consent before gaining access to contraceptives and information on birth control.
After leaving public office, Ehrlich served as the vice president of the American Institutes for Research and as the deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization. He taught at Georgetown University’s School of Medicine, the University of Texas School of Public Health and the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley. The recipient of the Public Health Service’s Outstanding Service Medal, Ehrlich retired in 1984 after learning that he had multiple sclerosis.