C. Everett Koop is dead at age 96.
Back in the mid-90's I had an unusual experience with Dr. Koop. It happened at Wheaton College in my hometown of Wheaton, Illinois. A friend of mine, British film director Norman Stone, and I had been asked to be the principle participants at an ethics forum that was held each year on the college campus. It was an honor to be asked. The topic for that year was ethics in the entertainment industry.
The main activity was an all day event in which we participated in various seminars and discussion groups. In attendance were academics, students and other interested people, both from the community and other parts of the country. Norman and I enjoyed ourselves immensely. The evening dinner came and more people arrived. Among them was Dr. Koop. I discovered that he was a member of this ethics forum. Needless to say, I was impressed. However, shortly after the meal began, I experienced true horror. While I was eating I was informed that, at the conclusion of the meal, we would be adjourning to an auditorium, where I would be giving a formal address. As was their custom, at the conclusion of my address, none other than Dr. Koop would give a formal response to what I had said.
There was only one problem. No one had informed me that I was going to be giving a formal address.
Somehow that minor detail had slipped through their organizational cracks. I can tell you that I am a very experienced public speaker. I majored in speech at Northern Illinois University. I have been speaking before groups of all sizes since I was in junior high. I have worked on air in radio. But as I sat there at dinner, none of that mattered. Cold terror swept straight through me. There was no getting out of this. No excuses. No way to beg off. If I didn't speak everyone was going to look really, really bad, especially me. Dr. Koop had flown in specifically to give his response to what I was going to say. BUT WHAT WAS I GOING TO SAY? I think for a moment I had an out-of-body experience. I know I wanted to leave my body and go somewhere far, far away.
This wasn't some twiddling impromptu romp in front of a bunch of friends and colleagues. This was an audience of brilliant people and the former SURGEON GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES was going to be listening to my every word AND THEN HE WAS GOING TO TALK ABOUT IT. I could imagine him saying, "Who brought this freaking idiot from California? No intelligent person could respond to his gibberish, so I'm just going to sit down."
Needless to say for me, all eating stopped. I didn't want to eat, I wanted to throw up. Instead, I picked up a napkin and a pen and went off by myself praying desperately. I had precisely 20 minutes to create a "formal address." Well, for better or worse, I did it. Thankfully, the subject was one that I knew well...Hollywood and the ethics of the entertainment business. I don't remember anything I said. When I was finished Dr. Koop stood up and gave a response, which was thoughtful, gracious and made it sound as though I had actually said something worth considering.
That is how I remember Dr. Koop - kind, thoughtful, gracious, extremely intelligent and a powerful presence.
I'm thankful that I had the opportunity to meet him. I just wish I had known that I was going to have the opportunity a day or so in advance.
Rest in peace in Jesus, Dr. Koop. I know that's where you are.