When CBS radio told him he could not use the word "syphilis" in a speech he was to deliver, Dr. Parran canceled the speech and then sent press releases to news organizations around the country that printed the verboten word.
Aside from declaring an open war against venereal disease and tuberculosis, he expanded the National Institutes of Health and is considered the father of the World Health Organization.
Surgeons general continued in such powerful positions as the nation's chief public health official until 1968, when the assistant secretary for health in the then-Department of Health, Education and Welfare took over the Public Health Service.
Today, it is the assistant secretary for health, to whom the surgeon general reports, who is considered the nation's pre-eminent public health official.
Those who argue for the elimination of the surgeon general's post note that the position was vacant between 1973 and 1977, and was incorporated in the dossier of the assistant secretary for health's from 1977 to 1981.
"You could eliminate the entire job, and you'd have no impact on the people of America," Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Delaware Democrat, said last week, railing against the administration's handling of the Foster nomination.