LaSalle Doheny Leffall, Jr.

Doctor of Science

As one of the world’s preeminent cancer surgeons, LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr. commands many firsts. He is the first African-American president of the American Cancer Society, the first African-American president of the American College of Surgeons, and, importantly for Amherst College, the first Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery at Howard University College of Medicine.

Charles Drew, a 1925 graduate of Amherst, was a professor of surgery at Howard, and is known for his work on blood preservation. Drew,
who opened many doors of opportunity to black surgeons, became a hero and role model to the young LaSalle Leffall, Jr., when he was earning his own medical degree at Howard. Drew is quoted as saying: “Excellence of performance will transcend the barriers of racial discrimination and segregation.” Leffall has helped prove the truth of that statement.

Born in 1930 in then-segregated Florida, Leffall graduated summa cum laudefrom Florida A&M College when he was just 18. He earned his M.D. (graduating first in his class) from Howard University College of Medicine in 1952, and during his military service, he served as chief of general surgery in a U.S. Army hospital in Munich, Germany. He joined the Howard faculty in 1962, and since then has taught more than 4,500 medical students.

Leffall has devoted his professional life to the study of cancer, particularly among African Americans, who have an especially high incidence of and mortality from the disease. He has been involved in cancer prevention, treatment, and education in minority and economically disadvantaged communities, and he made this work a centerpiece of his efforts with the American Cancer Society.

Married, and the father of a son who is an honors graduate of Harvard’s law and business schools, Leffall has said that the key qualities in life are “love and fire,” and he brings these to his service activities as well as to his work. Chair of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, he is executive vice president of the National Housing Partnership Foundation in Washington, D.C., and also serves on the board of the Charles A. Dana Foundation. Like his hero, Charles Drew, he is an inspiration for aspiring physicians and anyone interested in public service.

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