TUPELO – Northeast Mississippi health advocates lauded the service of State Health Officer Dr. Ed Thompson, who lost his battle with cancer Tuesday.
Thompson, 62, who twice served as head of the Mississippi State Department of Health and as deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, died at his home in Ridgeland.
As Mississippi’s health chief, Thompson was credited with making strides against infant mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis. He served in the post from 1993 to 2002 and again in 2007.
Dr. Mary Currier, state epidemiologist, will serve as interim state health officer.
Ripley family physician Dr. Dwalia South said Thompson had a gift not just for diagnosing difficult public health problems, but for finding solutions.
“The grand thing about Ed was that he didn’t just point this widely known shortcoming out to the media and poor-mouth about how bad our public health was,” South said. “He got in there and literally ‘hands on the wheel’ did something about it. He could navigate the halls of the Legislature as well as he could the laboratory.”
Tupelo family physician Dr. Ed Hill, who serves on the Mississippi State Board of Health, said Thompson was a giant in the field of public health as a teacher, epidemiologist, manager and administrator.
“He had the uncanny gift of being able to calm the fears and anxieties of any audience, large or small, and conveyed a profound sense of trust,” said Hill, who held public health meetings around Mississippi with Thompson in the early 1980s to talk about HIV-AIDS.
Thompson also could translate the big public health picture down to a personal level, said Brad Prewitt, who served as counsel for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran when Thompson was recommended for top jobs at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
“He had an uncommon intellect and a common touch,” said Brad Prewitt, who now serves the vice president of Mississippi operations for Circadence. “He had an ability to connect the dots.”
After leaving Mississippi in 2002, Thompson worked at the CDC in Atlanta, where he served as chief of public heath practice and deputy director for public health services. He returned to Jackson in 2006 to work at the University of Mississippi Medical Center as a faculty member.
In 2007, he was hired as state health officer after Dr. Brian Amy was ousted as head of the Department of Health and lawmakers restructured of the Board of Health.
“He came back to lead the agency out of years or turmoil and chaos,” said retired District II health officer Dr. Robert Trotter, who was appointed by Thompson during his first tour of duty in 1999. “That’s a legacy that’s quite significant.”
In a joint statement, Rep. Steve Holland, D-Planterville, and Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, chairs of their chambers’ Public Health Committees, said Thompson “was a sheer joy to work with. His congenial personality and vast knowledge of public health put him at the forefront of health care leadership in Mississippi and nationally.”
Randy Easterling of Vicksburg, president of the Mississippi Medical Association, said, amp”He will be remembered for his leadership in getting toddlers vaccinated, fighting against tobacco use and combating teen pregnancies in a state that heavily relies on a strong public health system to maintain the vitality of her people.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
NEMS Daily Journal