James Steele, 'father of veterinary public health,' dies at 100
Referred to often as the “father of veterinary public health,” James H. Steele, DVM, MPH, professor emeritus at the University of Texas School of Public Health, died Nov. 10. He was 100 years old.
The UT School of Public Health states in a release that Steele dedicated his life to investigating zoonotic disease and his work introduced the principles of veterinary public health to the world. The results of his efforts, including the development of a rabies vaccine and the founding of the veterinary division of the Centers for Disease Control in 1947, have helped save countless lives, the release says.
Steele earned his doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Michigan State in 1941 and a master’s in public health from Harvard in 1942. He began his career in 1938, testing vaccines at the Michigan State Department of Agriculture. From there he became a scientist with the Planned Veterinary Public Health Program in Washington, D.C., where he was a consultant to the surgeon general and helped establish veterinary programs in the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization in the United Nations. His work in Washington led Steele to the position of chief of the veterinary public health division of the Communicable Disease Center in Atlanta, which later became the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 1947.
Steele eventually became the chief veterinary officer and advisor to the surgeon general on all affairs involving veterinary medicine and veterinary public health. In 1968, he became the first assistant surgeon general for veterinary affairs with the U.S. Public Health Service, where he remained until 1971, and later was appointed deputy assistant secretary for Health and Human Services at the rank of admiral (two stars).
Steele went on to become a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health from 1971 until 1983, when he became professor emeritus. He lectured and mentored students for many years after his retirement in 1983. In recognition of his lifetime of work, the James H. Steele Lecture Series was established in his honor in 1992. In 2006, Steele became one of only a few veterinarians to receive the Surgeon General’s Medallion, presented by then-U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona. He received numerous awards for his work and wrote hundreds of scientific articles and book chapters. He also edited the world’s first comprehensive set of medical textbooks on zoonotic diseases.
Steele remained professor emeritus at the University of Texas until his passing. He celebrated his 100th birthday in April at his lecture series surrounded by friends and colleagues—some traveling from as far away as Africa and Europe.
Steele’s obituary reads, “Throughout the years, he has been a brilliant veterinary leader and supporter of the philosophy of One Health, aspiring to improve quality of life for people and animals around the world. His social philosophy to thousands of students and colleagues from all over the world was ‘I believe firmly throughout my career that I should share my knowledge and expertise with my fellow man. Those of us who are fortunate to be endowed with intellectual advantages have an even greater responsibility to share. Carry on!’”
Steele’s biography, One Man, One Medicine, One Health: The James H. Steele Story, was published in 2009, and an article on Steele appears in the April 2013 issue of Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
In lieu of customary remembrances, memorial contributions may be directed to the James H. Steele Professorship or to the James H. Steele Lecture Series, UT Health, Office of Development, P.O. Box 301413, Dallas, TX, 75303, or to the American Veterinary Epidemiology Society (AVES), P.O. Box 11093, Lexington, KY, 40512.