James H. Steele, veterinary public health pioneer, has died at 100

HOUSTON — (Nov. 12, 2013) — James H. Steele, D.V.M., M.P.H., a professor emeritus at The University of Texas School of Public Health, died Sunday morning, November 10, at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. He was 100 years old.

As the “father of veterinary public health,” Steele dedicated his life to investigating diseases transmitted from animals to humans—zoonoses. The results of his efforts, including the development of a rabies vaccine and the founding of the veterinary division of the Centers for Disease Control in 1947, have helped save countless lives. His work introduced the principals of veterinary public health to the world.

“Dr. Steele was a remarkable man and a great friend to the School of Public Health,” said Roberta B. Ness, M.D., M.P.H., dean of the School of Public Health. “His body of work and dedication to preventing the transmission of disease from animals to humans profoundly influenced the practice of public health.”

After leaving the CDC, Steele began teaching at the School of Public Health as a professor of environmental health. During his tenure there from 1971 to 1983, Steele continued to advance the understanding of zoonoses and compiled and edited the world’s first comprehensive series of books on diseases shared by animals and man, the CRC Press Handbook Series in Zoonoses.

Serving as a United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corp officer, Steele became the first assistant surgeon general for veterinary affairs and was later appointed as deputy assistant secretary at the rank of admiral.  

Steele lectured and mentored students for many years after his retirement in 1983. In recognition of his lifetime of work, The James H. Steele Lecture Series was established in his honor in 1992. In 2006, Steele became one of only a few veterinarians to receive the Surgeon General’s Medallion, presented by then-U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona.

In 2012, Steele received the OIE (World Animal Health Organization) Medal of Merit. Most recently in September, Steele received the World Veterinary Association John Gamgee award. Only five other veterinarians have received this honor since the award’s inception in 1963. 

Steele’s dedication inspired generations of students and earned the lasting respect of his colleagues. Steele celebrated his 100th birthday in April at his lecture series, surrounded by friends and colleagues—some traveling from as far away as Africa and Europe.

The following memorial services have been arranged for Steele:

Houston – Friday, November 15, 11 a.m. C.S.T., Geo. H Lewis and Sons, 1010 Bering Drive, Houston, Texas 77057, 713-789-3005.

Atlanta, Georgia – Wednesday, November 27, 10:30 a.m., The Cathedral of St. Phillip, Mikell Chapel, 2744 Peachtree Rd, NW, Atlanta, GA 30305, 404-365-1000.

For information about how to give a gift in Steele's memory, please visit Distinctions.

- Written by Anissa Orr, UT School of Public Health Communications

Hannah Rhodes
Media Contact: 713-500-3030