University researcher who linked smoking to cancer dies at age 92

Jerret Raffety

Dr. Leonard Schuman, a University professor emeritus and researcher, died May 31 from complications to a heart attack he suffered in mid-May. He was 92.

Schuman served on the U.S. Surgeon General’s Committee on Smoking and Health from 1962-64, contributing to findings that helped issue the first formal declaration from the government that smoking causes cancer.

John Finnegan, interim dean for the School of Public Health, said Schuman agreed to serve on the Surgeon General’s panel because, as a pack-and-a-half-a-day smoker, he didn’t want to believe there was a relationship between smoking and disease.

Born in 1913 in Cleveland, Schuman completed a bachelor’s degree in 1934 at Oberlin College. He completed his Master of Science and M.D. degrees in 1939 and 1940 at Case Western Reserve. He was an internationally recognized scholar, researcher and teacher in cancer prevention and infectious disease.

He began his career as a commissioned officer in 1941 in the U.S. Public Health Service, where he held many positions until 1954. Beginning in 1951, he spent two years in Korea during World War II studying frostbite and cold injury. In 1954, he joined the School of Public Health and established the country’s first doctoral program in epidemiology.

Finnegan said Schuman was a larger-than-life figure based on his accomplishments, but, in person, he was very down-to-earth.

“He was a voracious reader with a critical and curious mind, always questioning, always reading and – from the standpoint of these characteristics – he was a real scientist’s scientist,” Finnegan said.