LaSalle D. Leffall Jr., MD, an esteemed surgeon and professor who went on to lead multiple national and international cancer organizations, died May 25, 2019, at age 89.
Leffall was born in Tallahassee, Florida, May 22, 1930. He graduated from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College, known today as Florida A&M University, at age 18, and earned a medical degree from Howard University Medical School in Washington, D.C., in 1952.
He completed his residency at Freedmen’s Hospital, known today as Howard University Hospital, and a fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Leffall served as a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, serving as chief of general surgery at the U.S. Army Hospital in Munich, Germany, from 1960 to 1961.
He joined the medical faculty at Howard University in 1962 and became chairman of the Department of Surgery in 1970. He held that position for 25 years. In 1992, Leffall was named Charles R. Drew professor of surgery”Howard University’s first endowed chair in surgery.” He was renowned for his work with students and is credited with training more than 6,000 future physicians and more than 300 surgical residents. In recent years, although he retired from surgery, he continued teaching and lecturing.
Leffall held several distinguished leadership positions at major scientific organizations. He was the first African American to serve as president of the American Cancer Society. In his tenure there, he drew attention to rising cancer incidence and mortality rates in the African American population and developed programs to address cancer health disparities.
Leffall also served as president of the American College of Surgeons and the Society of Surgical Oncologists. He was a member of the National Cancer Advisory Board, was chairman of the President’s Cancer Panel, and was founding president and chairman of the board of C-Change, an organization that brought together leaders from private, public, and nonprofit sectors to address cancer as a public health problem.
In 1993, the AACR partnered with the Kellogg Company and the organizers of the Biennial Symposium on Minorities, the Medically Underserved and Cancer to sponsor the LaSalle D. Leffall Jr./Jack E. White Award for Cancer Prevention and Control. The award had been created in 1987 to honor Leffall, and in the 1990s, was given jointly by the AACR and fellow sponsors to recognize researchers who had addressed cancer disparities in minority and/or medically underserved communities.
Leffall became an active member of the AACR in 2002, participated in Minorities in Cancer Research, and transitioned to Emeritus membership in 2011. In 2007, he was awarded the AACR Public Service Award in recognition of his leadership in the fight against cancer through excellence in teaching, research, scholarship, patient care, and public service.
Leffall wrote more than 150 publications, including a memoir titled No Boundaries: A Cancer Surgeon’s Odyssey, published in 2005.
“LaSalle Leffall was a brilliant surgeon and teacher, and he had a gift for leadership,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “Whether he was training the next generation of physician-scientists or driving the mission of national and international science organizations, his intellect and his desire to give back were truly inspiring.