Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Paul G. Rogers, 87, a retired U.S. congressman known as “Mr. Health” for his work on environmental and health-care legislation during 24 years as a Democratic representative from West Palm Beach, Fla., died Oct. 13 at Sibley Memorial Hospital. He had lung cancer.
Mr. Rogers chaired the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, was the main sponsor of the Clean Air Act of 1970 and mobilized federal research into a “war on cancer.”
He also was the leader of legislation that established the National Institute of Aging and set standards for safe drinking water, noise control and emergency medical services.
He worked on legislation that made used cars adhere to federal safety requirements and examined the impact of X-rays from color television sets. He pushed the Food and Drug Administration to improve its inspections of food plants and medical devices.
He also passed a comprehensive drug abuse and prevention act as well as the Medicare-Medicaid Anti-Fraud and Abuse Amendments of 1977.
He was the chief sponsor in 1968 of Johnson administration-endorsed legislation to crack down on individual users of LSD, amphetamines and barbiturates, which for the first time made it a misdemeanor to possess the drugs for one’s own use.
The bill passed, but another proposed drug ban didn’t. Dieters and diabetics in 1977 inundated Mr. Rogers and other officials with protests as Congress considered a ban on the artificial sweetener saccharine when early animal studies connected it to increased incidences of cancer.
Mr. Rogers was an advocate of healthy habits and did not smoke, his friends said.
In a 1979 interview, the Palm Beach Post reported that he said, “I saw the potential for what could be done in the health care field, and it just was not being aggressively pursued. We were not looking ahead and planning.”
That concern for planning led to his widely quoted statement, “Without research, there is no hope,” now set in a marker on the National Institutes of Health campus.
Daniel A. Mica, who succeeded Mr. Rogers in his congressional seat and is now the president and chief executive of the Credit Union National Association, called him “a gracious gentleman’s gentleman [who] walked the halls of Congress with the highest respect of both parties. . . . Washington and the medical community are rife with people who all called Paul Rogers their mentor.”
Since leaving Congress in 1979, Mr. Rogers had been a partner in the Washington law firm Hogan &Hartson, where he started the firm’s health law practice.
He served on numerous boards, including the American Cancer Society, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and the Rand Corp. He was a past board chairman of the Scripps Research Institute, ResearchAmerica and the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
The main plaza at NIH was named for him in 2001. The federal courthouse in West Palm Beach also bears his name.
Paul Grant Rogers was born in Ocilia, Ga., on June 4, 1921, and moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as a child. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1942 and served in the Army during World War II, receiving the Bronze Star Medal for his actions in the European theater.
He graduated from the University of Florida’s law school in 1948 and practiced law in Palm Beach until 1955, when he won a special election to fill the congressional seat held by his father, Dwight L. Rogers, who had died.
Florida’s 9th Congressional District, then one of the largest in the nation as measured by geography, is now divided into 10 districts. The younger Mr. Rogers was reelected 11 times, often without opposition, and in his last campaign he won 91 percent of the vote.
In his post-Capitol Hill years, he won multiple awards, including the National Academy of Science Public Welfare Medal in 1982 and the Albert Lasker Award for Public Service in 1993. ResearchAmerica set up the Paul G. Rogers Society for Global Health Research to fight diseases that disproportionately affect the world’s poorest nations.
Survivors include his wife of 46 years, Rebecca Rogers of Washington; a daughter, Rebecca Laing Sisto of Westfield, N.J.; a brother; and four grandchildren.
Memorial services were held Mon., Oct. 20, at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Burial followed in the Arlington National Cemetery.