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University of Pittsburgh

December 6, 2007

Obituary: Gordon Kenneth MacLeod

Gordon Kenneth MacLeod, emeritus professor of health services administration at the Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) and clinical professor of medicine, died Nov. 25, 2007, of complications related to head injuries. He was 78.

Although Pitt was his academic home for more than 30 years, MacLeod had a wide-ranging career, including serving in Army intelligence, working as an engineer and holding two high government posts.

MacLeod was recruited to Pitt in 1974, when he helped found the former Department of Health Services Administration.

In 1990 MacLeod was elected president of the faculty’s executive committee at GSPH, and in 1998 he was awarded the Outstanding Teacher Award by the public health school.

He served as president of the University Senate in 1997-98, and was a member of the Senate’s benefits and welfare committee for nearly 20 years. Heavily involved in issues that affected faculty, MacLeod was a frequent participant in the Senate plenary sessions, and a regular contributor to the University Times Senate Matters column.

MacLeod was academic dean on the fall 1999 Semester at Sea voyage, and a faculty member on the summer 2001 trip.

As clinical professor of medicine, MacLeod made teaching rounds for 25 years with medical students, residents and fellows in university and community teaching hospitals. His limited medical practice was confined mainly to treating indigent patients.

MacLeod served as president of Pitt’s Medical History Society from 2002 to 2004, and was on the boards of directors of two Pittsburgh area hospitals.

Among MacLeod’s 115 publications is “Health Care Capital: Competition and Control,” co-edited in 1978 with the late Mark Perlman, University Professor of Economics, the first book ever written on capital financing of health care.

More recent publications included two three-volume sets of course outlines and study manuals for the course “A Cross-Cultural Approach to Health and Illness.”

“Health care was Gordon’s passion,” said Judith Lave, chair of health policy management, which was MacLeod’s home department. “He was very instrumental in establishing the federal government’s HMO project, and in his later years he was focused on global health and international health care systems and was preparing a book on that.”

Lave said MacLeod also was an exceedingly creative person who loved interacting with students. “He taught a highly regarded core course in health administration and policy, did a marvelous job with that and it was very popular,” Lave said.

MacLeod also played an important role in GSPH’s development, Lave said, including initiating in 1990 the Multidisciplinary Master of Public Health (MMPH) degree program that has provided public health training for several hundred physicians and dentists as well as medical and dental students. Although he retired in 2003, MacLeod remained active in the MMPH program as interim director from 2000 to 2005.

George Huber, retired senior vice president for corporate relations and regional programming at UPMC and a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, considered MacLeod a mentor, colleague and friend.

“He recruited me in the 1970s to come to the Department of Health Services Administration, and we worked on several projects together, where he was the P.I. or co-P.I.,” Huber said. “Gordon was a well-read, knowledgeable, conscientious and principled person who was able to take unpopular positions, so to speak, and stick to his guns. I give him much credit for his courage.”

MacLeod also was a practiced debater, always diligently prepared, Huber said. “He loved to debate, whether it was an issue before the University Senate or a health care issue of national import,” he said. “In fact, when you ask people about Gordon they’re likely to describe him as controversial. I think he enjoyed being controversial, because to be non-controversial was not doing his job in stimulating intellectual debate and looking at all sides of an issue. That was part of his M.O.”

In addition, he was a very loyal friend and devoted family man, Huber said. “I’ll miss him both collegially and as a good friend.”

John Baker, president of the University Senate and a dental school faculty member, said, “Gordon MacLeod was a special person who enjoyed interacting with people and helping them. I will always be grateful to him for the unhesitating support he gave me during the turmoil in the dental school in the 1990s, especially when he was Senate president in the 1997-98 academic year. We remained friends thereafter, and he always made time to talk whenever I saw him.”

Baker added that MacLeod was an outspoken advocate of universal health care, writing numerous articles and letters on the subject.

A Boston native, MacLeod graduated from Boston Latin School. He served in U.S. Army Intelligence at Camp Gordon, Ga., before entering Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill. Upon graduation from Blackburn, he worked for two years as an industrial engineer and manager at Procter & Gamble Co. in Cincinnati.

Switching career gears, he entered medical school at the University of Cincinnati. He was trained in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and in pharmacology at Harvard Medical School.

Because of his management experience and medical background, MacLeod was invited to join the “kitchen cabinet” charged with setting up the Harvard Community Health Plan. Subsequently, while serving as an associate clinical professor of medicine and public health at the Yale School of Medicine and chief of the Yale Diagnostic Clinic, he helped to found the Community Health Care Center Plan in New Haven. Both Harvard’s and Yale’s community health care plans were university-affiliated health maintenance organization prototypes.

MacLeod’s experience with prepaid comprehensive health care plans led then secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare Elliott Richardson to invite him to launch the federal government’s HMO program, where as founding director in the early 1970s he shaped the beginnings of some 130 HMOs, forerunners to managed care.

Internationally, MacLeod’s enthusiasm for studying and improving health education, delivery and financing systems resulted in his visiting some 40 countries worldwide. In 1973, he spent six months in Europe conducting a cross-national study on the role of consumers in health care governance in Britain, Denmark and Germany under Ford Foundation auspices.

Although he joined the Pitt faculty in 1974, MacLeod continued to be active outside the University.

In 1977, MacLeod was appointed by the World Health Organization to serve as consultant to the University of the Philippines.

He returned to domestic government service in 1979, on leave of absence from Pitt, as Pennsylvania’s secretary of health. While there, he stamped out the last U.S. polio epidemic by organizing a massive immunization campaign for some 147,000 Pennsylvanians over a three-day period.

MacLeod also managed health aspects of the March 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident, which occurred just 12 days after he was sworn in as secretary of health. Subsequently, he chaired the American Medical Association (AMA) committee on environmental emergencies and frequently was asked to write and speak about the health effects of nuclear accidents.

He also accepted several consulting assignments for foreign governments. From 1980 to 1987 he headed a USAID project at the University of the West Indies. In 1993, he spent six months as a fellow at the University of Auckland in New Zealand studying health care of the Maoris, a minority ethnic population. In 1994, he participated in another USAID project in Moscow and St. Petersburg, guiding Russian hospital CEOs in restructuring their health care system.

MacLeod served on the editorial boards of the Journal of the American Medical Association (1986-94) and the Physician’s News Digest, western Pennsylvania edition (1996-2007).

He was a fellow of the American College of Physicians and diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine. He was a member of Alpha Omega Alpha and Delta Omega, honorary medical and public health societies, respectively. He received a certificate of merit from the American Academy of Pediatrics, a distinguished service award from the Maryland Public Health Association and Blackburn College’s distinguished alumnus award.

As a member of a National Advisory Council of the National Institutes of Health, he was among those who approved the federal program to initiate the human genome project in 1985. He also served on the national advisory board of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Physicians for Social Responsibility.

In 1990, he served as president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society. He also spent 13 years as a delegate from the Pennsylvania Medical Society to the AMA House of Delegates; he served as president of the U.S. medical administrators conference and of Integrated Health Care Services, Inc., and as a board member of the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as a board member and an officer of the International MedicAlert Foundation.

MacLeod also served on the board of directors of the Institute for Research, Education and Training Against Addiction, and on the board of visitors of the Case Western Reserve School of Nursing in Cleveland.

MacLeod is survived by his wife, Jane; sons, Gordon K. III of Point Breeze and Alexander B. of Portland, Maine; a sister, Mary Kennedy of South Freeport, Maine, and a brother, Bruce MacLeod of Philadelphia.

Condolences may be sent to the family online at:

The family suggests memorial contributions go to: Physicians for Social Responsibility, 1875 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 1012, Washington, DC 20009; First Unitarian Church, 605 Morewood Ave., Pittsburgh 15213, or the American Parkinson Disease Association, 490 East North Ave., Suite 500, Pittsburgh 15212.

A memorial service at Pitt is in the planning stages.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature, Volume 40 Issue 8

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