NOV. 21, 2005 | Phillip McMath, son of former Arkansas governor Sidney McMath, noted that a 2-cent cigarette tax to fund construction of University Hospital passed the legislature by just one vote in the early 1950s.
The late governor fought hard for the tax – determined that Arkansas needed a state-of-the-art medical campus – and the medical center, of which his son says the two-term governor was immensely proud. Construction of the new hospital moved the campus across town to its current location, leading some to refer to McMath as the Father of Modern-Day UAMS.
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences honored McMath posthumously Nov. 16 with the endowment of a new professorship in the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health. The Governor Sidney S. McMath Professorship in Obesity Prevention was created from settlement funds obtained by the McMath Woods Law Firm in a health-related, multi-state law suit.
“This professorship honors a man with deep vision,” said UAMS Chancellor I. Dodd Wilson, M.D., pointing to McMath’s advocacy for the cigarette tax to improve health a half-century ago. “And it honors the College of Public Health in its mission to improve the health of all Arkansans.
“We will live up to the expectations of the McMath family and the McMath Woods Law Firm.”
Phillip McMath said his father saw a cigarette tax to fund construction of a hospital was a national way to compensate for the damage to health done by smoking.
“And it passed by only one vote “…one vote to build a medical school where some 80 percent to 90 percent of the state’s doctors are trained. McMath said.
“Dad was not one who collected honors or wore them on his sleeve but he would’ve been deeply honored by this because he was immensely proud of UAMS.”
The McMath professorship is the first endowed professorship in the College of Public Health. UAMS College of Public Health Dean James M. Raczynski, Ph.D., told the audience for the endowment ceremony why it was so vital.
He said the benefits of the professorship are threefold: supporting recruitment of a senior faculty member with a focus on control and prevention of obesity; having the professor work with the college and Arkansas Center for Health Improvement to develop an obesity prevention curriculum; allowing the college to better serve the state, governor and legislature as a resource and advocate for public health.
“It’s through these benefits that we realize our mission to improve health and promote well-being of individuals, families, and communities in Arkansas through education, research and service,” Raczynski said.
Raczynski noted how obesity has grown as a serious health problem for Arkansas as well as the nation. While there have been some positives in attacking cancer through trying to reduce the number of smokers, he said, obesity rates have doubles.
“One out of four adults are obese, while the number was less than half that 13 years ago,” Raczynski said. “Obesity is the big lumbering bear set to take its toll on health care.”
A medallion symbolizing the new professorship, featuring McMath’s World War II image, was presented to son Phillip McMath and his widow, Betty Dortch Russell McMath, by Wilson and Raczynski. Medallions also were to be given to McMath’s other children – Sandy McMath, Bruce McMath, Melissa Hatfield and Patricia Bueter.
The McMath Woods Law Firm donated $1 million to the College of Public Health from the proceeds of the lawsuit, which specified that some of the money be used to serve the public. Professorships are established with gifts of $500,000 or more. In addition to Phillip McMath, others in the law firm who attended the ceremony were Mart Vehik and Charles Harrison.
The endowment of the Professorship in Obesity Prevention will contribute to the development of an Obesity Prevention Center to address Arkansas’ major nutrition and diet-related problems, pay for research, and provide support for the recipient of the endowed professorship. A recipient of the endowed professorship is expected to be named within a year.
McMath, who died in 2003, was a native of Columbia County, a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, and a decorated veteran of the Pacific theater in World War II. He would become a leading figure in the Southern reform movement, making major contributions in race relations, labor relations, rural electrification and other matters that helped Arkansans.
The former governor’s efforts were crucial to the construction of the UAMS campus, the neighboring State Hospital, and the establishment of UAMS’ Department of Psychiatry.