Dr. James O. Mason, Utah Alumni ’58, Former CDC Director, 89 Dies

Mike Thelin

Mike Thelin
Editor, History of the Health Sciences

Mason, James O.JAMES O. MASON M.D., Dr.P.H. 1930 – 2019

The Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library notes the passing of Dr. James O. Mason on October 9, 2019. Dr. Mason was a 1955 graduate of the University (B.A.) and the College of Medicine Class of 1958. Dr. Mason Later obtained a masters (1962) and doctorate (1967) degree in Public Health from the Harvard University School of Public Health. A member of the LDS Church, Dr. Mason served as its Commissioner of Health Services from 1970-75. In 1975, Dr. Mason was appointed Director of the Utah State Public Health Laboratory which he oversaw until being named Chair of the Division of Community Medicine in 1976. From 1977-83, Dr. Mason was the Executive Director of the Utah State Department of Health.

President Ronald Reagan nominated Dr. Mason to be Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1983. It was during Dr. Mason’s tenure at CDC that the AIDS crisis emerged as a public health concern. CDC issued its first set of guidelines for managing the disease in March 1983 and in April, 1985 the first AIDS conference was held under its auspices in Atlanta. Concurrently, CDC began its AIDS Surveillance Program while Dr. Mason was director. At the end of 1986, CDC, as Dr. Mason later recalled, had published nearly 100 MMWR reports that included recommendations for AIDS disease prevention and treatment. By the time Dr. Mason left CDC in 1989, general perceptions of AIDS patients had changed that in 1990, the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency (CARE) Act was enacted as public law.

Dr. Mason’s service in public health continued as U.S. delegate to the Executive Committee of the World Health Organization from 1989-92 and later as Vice President and Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences from 1992-93. When he retired from the U. S. Public Health Service in 1993, Dr. Mason held the rank of admiral.

Dr. Mason, trained as a scientist, nonetheless drew upon the convictions of his faith as a touchstone when it came to what he saw as an equally vital aspect to patient care. “Many significant professional decisions I was called upon to make were based upon objective, well-controlled science … there is a Spirit of truth [however] that acts upon all people to improve the lot of Mankind.”