Our Bi-monthly Profile of a Great HBCU Alum Who Isn't With us Anymore
Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall Jr
(1930 – 2019)
Presented to you
By K. Lerone Hardy – March 29, 2021
In this latest bi-monthly edition of our feature, Not Forgotten, we highlight another HBCU alum, the late Dr. LaSalle Leffall Jr., a proud alum of Howard University.
Dr. LaSalle Leffall Jr. is one name we should know in cancer research. He became the first African-American president of the American Cancer Society in 1979. He created initiatives to lower incidences of cancer within the African-American communities, and other ethnicities.
Leffall's legacy as an African-American doctor continued as the first African-American president for the American College of Surgeons, Society of Surgical Oncology, and Society of Surgical Chairs.
LaSalle Doheny Leffall Jr. was born on May 22, 1930, in Tallahassee, FL, and grew up in nearby Quincy. His father, LaSalle Sr., taught at Florida A&M University, later becoming a high school principal. His mother, Lula, was also an educator.
What made Leffall dynamic were his childhood experiences. He was mentored by the only Black doctor in his town of Quincy, FL, his godmother's husband. The spark came when 9-year-old LaSalle nursed a bird's broken leg. Leffall made a splint for the leg, from two tongue depressors tied together. After seeing the bird fly in 3 days, LaSalle knew he wanted to be a doctor.
Leffall graduated from high school in 1945 at age 15. He graduated in 1948 at age 18 from Florida A&M University, with a B.S. summa cum laude. By age 22, Leffall earned his M.D. at Howard University College of Medicine.
Dr. Leffall's continued his internship and residencies at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis, Freedmen's Hospital in D.C., and D.C. General Hospital. He completed his cancer fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City. Leffall's specialties were cancers of the neck, colorectal, head, breast, and soft part sarcomas.
As The American Cancer Society President, Leffall created campaigns focusing on early diagnosis and preventive measures in African-Americans. The campaign focused on the early detection of cancer in the lungs, stomach, pancreas, and esophagus in African-American men. For African-American women, the focus was early detection of uterine cancer.
Leffall educated approximately 6,000 doctors and 300 surgeons, mostly at Howard University College of Medicine. He began teaching at Howard in 1962, becoming Chairman of Surgery in 1970, serving for 25 years. Leffall was also the first endowed Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery at Howard in 1992. This title was appropriate for Leffall, who was partially trained by Dr. Charles Drew at Howard. Dr. Drew is also the inventor of the blood bank.
Leffall's academic work is featured in 150 publications and three books. Leffall also had over 200 visiting professorships internationally.
Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, current president of Howard University, cherishes being beside Dr. Leffall in his last surgery. This was also Dr. Frederick's first surgery as a fully-accredited surgeon. He believes Leffall lived Howard's motto of "Truth and Service" with a legacy of service and benevolence.
Dr. LaSalle Leffall, who died of cancer in May 2019, left a legacy for us to find a cure for cancer, so he can applaud us from heaven.