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1930 - 2019

Lasalle D. Leffall, Jr. M.D., 1930 - 2019

On May 25, 2019, LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr. M.D. passed from this life quietly at the age of 89. No one descriptor can capture the essence of this master surgeon, oncologist, medical educator, civic leader, and humanist. Born on May 22, 1930, in Tallahassee, Florida, young LaSalle Leffall was an exceptional student graduating from high school at age 15, and summa cum laude from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College - now Florida A&M University - in 1948. He was trained at the Howard University College of Medicine and ultimately graduated first in the Class of 1952. After completing his residency at Freedmen’s Hospital (now Howard University Hospital) in 1957, he took a surgical oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 1957-1959.

Dr. Leffall began his military career at the rank of Captain, M.C., serving as Chief of General Surgery, U.S. Army Hospital in Munich Germany from 1960-1961. He received an Honorable Discharge in December 1961. In 1962, Dr. Leffall joined Howard’s faculty as an assistant professor and became Chairman of the Department of Surgery only eight years later, a position he held for twenty-five years.

Dr. Leffall was the first African American to serve as a national president of the American Cancer Society, where he focused attention on the increasing incidence and mortality of cancer among Black Americans, creating an innovative program to address cancer disparities among ethnic populations.

Dr. Leffall was also the first African American president of other national organizations, including the Society of Surgical Oncology, the Society of Surgical Chairmen, and the American College of Surgeons. He taught more than 6,000 medical students, and trained more than 300 surgical residents. His teaching honors are unmatched in the University’s 152 year history, and include the Honored Faculty Award at the medical school’s Honors and Oath Ceremony over 30 times. His prolific academic contributions include over 150 publications, 3 books, Visiting Professorships at over 200 institutions around the country and the world, 14 honorary degrees from Universities in America, and honorary Fellowships from 6 International Colleges 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.

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.

His towering intellect made each interaction edifying. In one moment he might correct your grammar before pivoting to discuss some complex idea or concept. Dr Leffall might even share a few thoughts in German given his fluency in the language. The breadth of his academic pursuits was nothing short of awe-inspiring; his memory and oratorical skills were legendary. He was a life-long learner and teacher, an avid tennis player, and noted jazz enthusiast. Even after retiring from performing surgery, he remained on the faculty as a lecturer and resource at Howard University.

The legions of human beings impressed, inspired, and improved by Dr Leffall transcends Surgery, Medicine, or barriers of language, race, class, politics, or geography. He was a lover of life, lived his to the absolute fullest, and attacked its vicissitudes with a hallmark discipline that he always displayed, and that became emblematic of him and his iconic mantra: Equanimity Under Duress.

Dr. Leffall is survived by his wife of 62 years, Ruth, their son Donney, his sister Dolores; and missed by family, friends, staff, mentees, and by all who cherish a kinder, gentler world.