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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Location, Location, Location

NIH Site of Committee Deliberations Humble

Black&white image of 12 men seated around a conference table in a small enclosure, with wall open at top in background

The 10-member surgeon general advisory committee meets in its “bullpen,” a temporary structure built on the C Level of the National Library of Medicine. The two individuals sitting at the head of the table to the right are Assistant Surgeon General Dr. James Hundley and Staff Director Dr. Eugene Guthrie.

Photo: courtesy don shopland

For all of its momentous responsibility and undertaking, the 10-member group tasked with advising the U.S. surgeon general on the health effects of smoking held forth in somewhat humble surroundings—a super-subbasement of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) building newly constructed on NIH’s Bethesda campus.

“The staff was housed on C level in NLM, far away from the madding crowd,” said Donald Shopland, who was still a teenager when he was assigned a job supporting the committee. “C level back then only contained journals published prior to 1946 that were in significantly less demand than the more current journals on A level. As a result, few people were on the floor, except for the occasional library tech who retrieved journals from that era. C level is three floors below ground.” 

Immediately after the committee was formed, the Public Health Service constructed short-term offices for the staff, Shopland recalled. In addition, a temporary enclosure was erected next to the offices. 

“The staff affectionately called it the ‘bullpen,’” Shopland said, “and that is where the full committee met to discuss the evidence and put their final report together.”

Accommodations were far from lavish. The enclosure stood less than 6 feet tall, was completely open at top and bottom and had no doors. And, being cast far from the public eye perhaps offered the group more freedom of expression.

Four men--one in military uniform--and four women gather for group picture

Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry, shown in uniform with a group of staffers. Donald Shopland (r), age 18 at the time, is one of the last survivors who staffed the committee.

Photo: courtesy don shopland

“It wasn’t unusual to hear a few ugly words being said as the committee ‘debated’ the evidence,” Shopland remembered. “More than a few shouting matches occurred too.”  

Since committee members maintained their full-time academic positions back home, they always met on weekends—usually beginning on Friday and going through Saturday. Later, meetings extended into Sunday and even Monday.  

“Obviously that meant the staff worked weekends too,” Shopland lamented. “In fact, certain members of the staff worked most weekends. It wasn’t unusual for some of the core staff to turn in timecards with as many hours of overtime as regular time.”

Now set to become an octogenarian this fall, Shopland, who eventually served as coordinator of the National Cancer Institute’s Smoking and Tobacco Control Program, may be the sole surviving person to have worked on the groundbreaking report. 

A book, Clearing the Air. The Untold Story of the 1964 Report on Smoking and Health, which he and two fellow staffers wrote with two committee members gives the inside scoop on “just what went into putting that landmark report together.” It's now available for free download at https://uchealthhumanitiespress.com/books/clearing-the-air/.   

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