Dr. William J. Peeples, 84, veteran, Md. health commissioner, oncologist

August 03, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Dr. William J. Peeples, who served as Maryland's health commissioner in the late 1960s before taking up a practice in radiation oncology, died of congestive heart failure July 26 at a nursing home in Fort Myers, Fla. The former Timonium resident was 84.

Born in Athens, Ga., he earned his medical degree from the University of Georgia. He served in World War II as an Army field surgeon on Okinawa and later remained in the reserves, attaining the rank of colonel.

After the war, Dr. Peeples earned a master's degree in public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He worked in public health in Georgia and Florida before becoming Montgomery County's health officer in 1955.

He left Maryland in 1963 when he was named chief of California's Bureau of Chronic Diseases, but returned two years later when Gov. J. Millard Tawes appointed him as state health commissioner. He retained the post until 1969.

During his tenure, Dr. Peeples led investigations into abuse in nursing homes, advocated generic drugs for senior citizens to save money and sought higher wages for employees at the old Montebello State Hospital. He also supported a moratorium on weapons testing at the Army's Fort Detrick in Frederick County until an independent inspection was made of the base.

"We have not paid enough attention to the fact that this potentially dangerous hazard exists," he said in 1969 about the fort, which now houses the Army's biodefense research labs.

In 1965, he was named by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the 12-member National Advisory Council on Regional Medical Programs, a Great Society initiative set up to investigate cures for heart disease, cancer and strokes.

Dr. Peeples left public health in 1971 and decided to go into radiation oncology. He trained for three years at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, the MD Anderson Hospital in Houston, and in Toronto.

"He was sick and tired of administration, and changed his career," said his wife of 61 years, the former Margaret Olsen, a retired pediatrician who was on the staff of the Kennedy Krieger Institute. "He took three years off and studied and studied. It was not an easy thing for a 50-year-old man."

Dr. Peeples joined an oncology clinic in Pensacola, Fla., and later joined a medical practice in Norfolk, Va., affiliated with Eastern Virginia Medical School, where he was associate professor. He retired in 1989.

"He listened very well and treated the whole patient," said his son, Kenneth Andrew Peeples of Wilmington, Del. "He had a marvelous bedside manner, and his follow-up with his recuperating patients showed he never saw being a physician as a job, but as a vocation. And despite his long professional hours, he still had time for his family."

In 1968, Dr. Peeples received a Top Hat Award at a national convention held by the Business and Professional Women's Club in Minneapolis "for significantly broadening the opportunities for employment and advancement for women in the field of public health."

He told The Evening Sun at the time, "I urge young women not to think of marriage as the ultimate end or as an answer to every need. If I did in any way broaden employment for women in public health, it was because they deserved it and earned it."

Dr. Peeples lectured on public health issues at Johns Hopkins, Georgetown University and the Catholic University of America. He also wrote articles related to oncology and public health issues.

In 1966, after his daughter Patricia was killed in an automobile accident, Dr. Peeples established a University of Georgia scholarship in her name for a woman to train in veterinary medicine.

Services are private.

In addition to his wife and son, survivors include another son, William Jackson Peeples of Fallston; six grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

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