His critics pictured Surgeon General C. Everett Koop as a national kook when he arrived in Washington. Now, as he prepares to leave, he has a reputation as a national scold.
For seven years, Koop, the stern family doctor with an Amish farmer's beard, wagged a finger and preached good health practices in direct language that made people squirm.He came to office under suspicion from liberals for his impassioned anti-abortion views, for calling women "girls" and for telling graduating high school seniors that motherhood completed the "whole vocation" of being a woman.
By the time he announced on Thursday that he will retire this summer, he had pacified liberals and gained a fresh set of critics among conservatives.
Urvashi Vaid, a spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said Koop helped educated the country by having "carved out a moderate, consensus position on AIDS."
But Koop's views antagonized such conservative activists as Phyllis Schlafly and March for Life leader Nellie Gray.
Schlafly recoiled from Koop's if-you-must-have-sex, use-condoms views on AIDS and concluded that Koop had become indifferent to promiscuity.
Liberal Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, said he had been dead wrong in 1981 when he said, "Dr. Koop scares me. He is a man of tremendous intolerance."
"One of the great surprises of the last eight years is how wrong I was," Waxman said Thursday. "If they could find a clone of Koop, they ought to appoint him (as successor)."
And Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., a leader in the liberals' unsuccessful nine-month fight to block Koop's confirmation, said Koop had turned out to be "perhaps the best surgeon general ever."
The office gives its occupant the right to wear a uniform as head of the 7,200-member commissioned corps of the Public Health Services, but not much statutory authority. An ability to persuade is the chief source of his power.
At that, the 72-year-old Koop - with a square-shouldered presence and the voice of a prophet - excelled. He was frequently on television talk shows, attaining celebrity status.
In office, he:
-Issued a surgeon general's report that told smokers they were addicts, as hooked on nicotine as dopeheads are on cocaine. While drugs kill 12,000 people a year and alcohol may lead to 125,000 deaths a year, he said, "My enemy kills 350,000."
-Wrote and mailed to every household in America a pamphlet on AIDS which described in frank terms how the disease is acquired but drew no moral conclusions. Mrs. Schlafly said Koop's report did not make enough of a distinction between the use of condoms and abstinence from out-of-wedlock sexual behavior.
-Jarred conservatives by refusing to issue a report requested by then-President Reagan on abortion's psychological effects on women.
An irked Nellie Gray said it was time for Koop to retire.