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Last modified: Monday, December 8, 2008

John R. Seffrin, Doctor of Science

December 10, 2008

John R. Seffrin, the visionary leader of the American Cancer Society, has touched the lives of millions of Americans and people around the world in his campaign to prevent and control cancer.

His work has personified the society's mission as "the nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer, through research, education, advocacy, and service."

Seffrin's seminal role as chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society (ACS) since 1995 is described jointly by two IU faculty administrators: Dean of the School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (HPER) Robert M. Goodman and Chancellor's Professor Mohammad Torabi, who is chair of HPER's Department of Applied Health Science. They write that John Seffrin "has revolutionized the society and integrated the notion of prevention and health education as parts of the overall mission of the society . . . Dr. Seffrin led a major reorganization and refocusing of the society's priorities resulting in the greatest growth and impact on its lifesaving mission in the society's 92-year history. Having set measurable goals in 1999, the nation's cancer program is now on track to achieve a 50 percent reduction in cancer mortality by the year 2015."

Prior to becoming executive vice president and chief staff officer of the ACS in 1992, Dr. Seffrin was chairperson of the Department of Applied Health Science in IU's School of HPER from 1979 to 1992. Under his leadership, the department became one of the nation's top programs, a distinction that continues today. During his years at IU he was also director of the Center for Health and Safety Studies, chair of the Hazard Control Program Advisory Board, and co-director of the Institute for Drug Abuse Prevention.

Before joining the IU faculty, Seffrin was a faculty member in health education at Purdue University from 1970 to 1979, serving as chair of Health and Safety Education from 1977 to 1979.

Dr. Seffrin holds the Bachelor of Science degree from Ball State University, the Master of Science in Health Education from the University of Illinois, and the Ph.D. in Health Education from Purdue University. He has been awarded honorary doctoral degrees by both Ball State and Purdue Universities.

Seffrin has served in many leadership positions, including as a member of the Surgeon General's Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health; treasurer of the Partnership for Prevention; co-chair of the National Cancer Legislation Advisory Committee; chair of the National Health Council Board of Directors; and treasurer of the National Dialogue on Cancer, chaired by President George H. W. Bush. He has also served as president of the International Union against Cancer, based in Geneva, Switzerland, which coordinates efforts across the globe to contain cancer. He was the recipient of the Presidential Citation from the Society for Public Health Education in Washington, D.C., in 2007. He has served on the boards of directors of 40 organizations.

Hailed as a dynamic teacher, a brilliant speaker, and a prolific researcher, Seffrin has inspired many young professionals in the field of health education and other areas related to cancer control and prevention. He is the author of six books, seven book chapters, and seventy-five articles, as well as scores of other publications.

"Dr. Seffrin is a visionary," writes David M. Koceja, associate dean for research in IU's School HPER. "He was truly a pioneer in the health and wellness field long before the statistics emerged indicating that any of the preventable diseases confronting America will burden the health and well-being of our nation. He has fought a noble fight against preventable disease, has been consistent in his message, and our nation and indeed the world are beginning to realize the benefits of his message -- as a society we are truly winning the war on preventable disease."

Describing the scope of Seffrin's work, Lloyd J. Kolbe, associate dean for global and community health in IU's School of HPER, notes that the ACS leader, in his efforts to control cancer, "has won victories in Congress and state legislatures, in board rooms and convention halls, in the hearts and mind of all who will listen to his most eloquent plea to deny more victims to that disease most feared."

Kolbe adds that among the work of many who have led the fight against cancer, "one will be remembered throughout the history of humankind for his vision, diplomatic and political acumen, his organizational wisdom, his compassion, and his never-ending commitment to mitigate the terror and suffering visited upon his fellow human beings by the vicissitudes of cancer. That leader is John Seffrin."