Dr. Peter Hamill, 80

Medical director for 1964 smoking report

March 14, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,sun reporter

Dr. Peter VanVechten Hamill, who was medical director for the pivotal 1964 U.S. surgeon general's report that linked smoking with lung cancer and other pulmonary diseases, died of pneumonia Saturday at Anne Arundel Medical Center. He was 80 and lived in St. Margaret's near Annapolis.

Dr. Hamill was scientific director and medical coordinator for the landmark "Smoking and Health" study. Congress responded a year later by requiring cigarette packages to include this warning: "The surgeon general has determined that cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health."

"He and many of the panel members smoked, but at the end of the study, I think, they had all quit," said his daughter, January H. Gatza of Bel Air. "He had started smoking in medical school."

Born in Baltimore, Dr. Hamill lived briefly in Severna Park before moving to Detroit. After studies at the University of Notre Dame, where he was a Golden Gloves boxing champion, and at St. John's College in Annapolis, he earned his bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

He received a medical degree at Michigan in 1953 and a master's degree in public health from the Johns Hopkins University after moving to the Annapolis area in 1959.

A commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, Dr. Hamill treated Native Americans in Alaska who had high rates of tuberculosis.

As concerns grew in the early 1960s about the health risks of tobacco use, U.S. Surgeon General Luther L. Terry tapped Dr. Hamill to assemble a 10-member advisory committee of scientists, scholars and statisticians because of his expertise in public health issues and his medical background in lung disease.

"Many of the members were initially reluctant to join another government committee, but Peter assured us that we would be free and uninhibited," said Dr. Charles A. LeMaistre, who was the youngest committee member and later president of the University of Texas' M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. "He was exceedingly well-trained in pulmonary disease and in epidemiology."

Dr. Hamill had the members meet at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda in 1962 and 1963. He also convened a small medical group at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to medically define the connection between smoking and cancer, Dr. LeMaistre recalled yesterday.

Dr. Hamill was on the stage of the State Department in Washington when the report was issued to the media Jan. 11, 1964.

The surgeon general chose a Saturday to curb its effect on the stock market and bolster what became page-one Sunday newspaper coverage.

"Peter deserved much of the credit for that report getting done," Dr. LeMaistre said.

Dr. Hamill later chaired a government study on juvenile growth and retired in 1978. He remained a medical consultant to Occidental Chemical Corp.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Anne's Episcopal Church, on Church Circle in Annapolis, where he was a member.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of 54 years, the former Margot Henry; two sons, Peter V. Hamill Jr. of Annapolis and Northmore W. Hamill II of Falls Church, Va.; another daughter, Hannah E. Hamill of Chester; and 11 grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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