By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer
Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., surgeon, oncologist, professor and civic leader died on May 25, leaving his family, friends and the Howard University community grieving.
“It is with a heavy heart that I write to share that an icon of Howard University and a giant in the field of Medicine, Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., has passed away,” said Wayne A.I. Frederick, President of Howard University, in a letter to Howard students, staff and community.
Trailblazing surgeon, oncologist, professor and civic leader Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr. died on May 25. (Courtesy Photo)
Dr. Leffall was born on May 22, 1930, in Tallahassee, Florida. A gifted student, he graduated high school at 15, and summa cum laude, from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College, now Florida A&M University, in 1948.
He attended Howard University College of Medicine and graduated first in his class. After completing his surgical training at Freedmen’s Hospital (Howard University Hospital) in 1957, he went on to complete his surgical oncology training at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (1957-59).
In 1962, Dr. Leffall joined Howard’s faculty as an assistant professor. Only eight years later he became chairman of the Department of Surgery, a position he held for 25 years.
Dr. Leffall has held many titles and positions throughout his life. He was the first African American to serve as national president of the American Cancer Society, focusing attention on the increasing incidence and mortality of cancer among Black Americans. He would later create an innovative program to address cancer disparities among ethnic populations.
He was also the first African American president of the Society of Surgical Oncology, the Society of Surgical Chairmen, and the American College of Surgeons.
Dr. Leffall taught more than 6,000 medical students, lectured at more than 200 medical institutions across the country and trained more than 300 surgical residents.
His honors are unmatched in the University’s century-and-a-half-long history, Frederick said, including the prestigious honored faculty award during the College of Medicine’s Honors and Oath ceremony more than 30 times.
Dr. Leffall leaves a legacy of academic contributions including more than 150 publications, three books, visiting professorships at more than 200 institutions internationally, 14 honorary degrees from universities in America, and honorary fellowships from six international college of surgeons. He was named the Charles R. Drew Professor in 1992, occupying the first endowed chair in the history of Howard’s Department of Surgery.
Dr. Frederick said Dr. Leffall made it a point to be available to those who needed him saying, “The great heights reached by Dr. Leffall never kept him from being accessible to students, patients and staff in a manner that was marked by unconditional love and selflessness. He was a good listener, slow to give or take offense and always encouraging others to find the broader lesson in seemingly quotidian situations.”
Even after retiring from performing surgery, he remained on the faculty as a lecturer and resource at Howard University.
His numerous awards and achievements only begin to highlight his extraordinary contributions to the field of medicine. Dr. Leffall was a true son of Howard and a loyal exemplar of the University’s motto: “Truth and Service.” He leaves behind a legacy of service and benevolence to the University as a long-standing donor who created opportunities for subsequent generations of students through his generosity.
“I will continue to live in Dr. Leffall’s honor and his example,” Frederick said in his statement. “He often referenced a quote by French idealist philosopher and Jesuit priest, Pierre Chardin, who said, ‘someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.’” In many ways, Dr. Leffall was, is and always will be our ever-burning fire.”
Dr. Leffall is survived by his wife Ruth, a son LaSalle Leffall, III, also known as “Donney,” a sister, Dolores C. Leffall, and many family friends, staff and mentees he has touched throughout his lifetime.
Formal arrangements will be shared once they are finalized.