He started his career with the DVM degree from Michigan State College, 1941 and with the MPH degree from Harvard University, 1942. In 1943 he was commissioned in the U.S. Public Health Service as a Sanitarian (Lt. Grade). After the war he was directed to establish a Veterinary Public Health Program at the Communicable Disease Center. The VPH program became a model for the states and International agencies – WHO and FAO and many countries. Dr Steele became the Chief Veterinary Officer and advisor to the Surgeon General in 1950. He retired as Assistant Surgeon General in 1971 after 28 years of promoting VPH and the role of veterinarians in veterinary public health.
1971 - 1983 he became Professor of environmental health in the University of Texas, School of Public Health in Houston. Later on (1983) he was appointed in the same University as Professor Emeritus. In the meantime he was appointed as consultant by FAO and WHO, Pan American Health Organization, UN and the German Federal Health Office. He is editor-in-chief and author of numerous remarkable books and articles in the field of Zoonoses (e.g. Zoonoses handbook), Tuberculosis Control in Man and Animals, Food Hygiene and Irradiation of Food.
Dr. Steele has been awarded several distinctions such as the Michigan State Univ. Alumni Award (1958), USPHS Order of Merit (1963), Karl F. Meyer Gold Head Cane Award (1966), Disting. Svc. Award USPHS (1971), Michigan State University Coll. Vet. Medicine Award (1972), Hon. Mem. Epidemic Intelligence Svc. (1975), Am. Vet. Med. Assn. Internat. Vet. Award (1984), Public Service Award (1993), James H. Steele Vet. Public Health Award World Vet. Epidem. Society (1975), Founder and hon. diploma Am. Coll. Vet. Preventive Med. (1983), Pres.’s Award (1994); Nat. Acad. Health Practitioners, World Vet. Epidem. Soc. (founder, pres. 1971); Am. Vet.- Epidem. Soc. (pres. 1966 - 88); Honorary Member World Vet. Assoc. (1975), Surgeons Assoc. (hon., life), Infectious disease Soc. Am. (Emeritus), Internat. Epidemiology Soc. (Emeritus), Order of Merit, Federal Health Office, Germany (1993), James H. Steele Annual Public Health Lecture University of Texas, School of Public Health, Houston (1993), Michigan State Univ. Distinguished Alumnus Award (2001) and Steele-Murphy Veterinary Public Health Fellowship Michigan State Univ. (2003).
He was among the first WHO consultants in 1950 and remains so in the 21st Century. Previously he was a consultant to the Pan American Health Organisation and continues. Also FAO and other international organisations.
Dr. Steele's merits from the personal view of the author are based on his counsellor position in the Robert von Ostertag-Institute of the Federal Health Office in Berlin which he took over in 1972. Since that time with him we have developed very close co-operation in the field of Veterinary Public Health. Dr. Steele's position as former Assistant Surgeon General facilitated these contacts very much.
In his function he promoted very convincingly the research work of this Federal Institute which had been designated in 1975 as WHO Collaborating Center for Training and Research in Food Hygiene and Zoonoses. At the same time Dr. Steele was appointed as a member of the Zoonoses Expert Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) and he acted very successfully as consultant in various fields of the division of communicable diseases and food safety of this agency. During those years the important work of the veterinary public health unit of the WHO was decisively influenced and promoted by his extraordinary extensive knowledge and ideas in this field. The same applies for his supporting activities in the Food Safety Program of the WHO. In addition, he is a well-known international scientist within the World Veterinary Association (WVA) coupled with a viable knowledge in the entire field of veterinary public health, and up to now, he is still active as an indispensable consultant covering a wide range of scientific topics. In most world congresses held on veterinary science Mr. Steele was nominated to act as keynote speaker and chairperson. Because of his admirable and simply wonderful rhetorical qualities he represented, in a specific way, his home country, the United States of America.
In 1975 he was nominated as an Honorary Member of the WVA. For the last 25 years he has supported, without any interruption, symposia, round table conferences, world congresses and other activities of the World Association of Veterinary Food Hygienists (WAVFH) with his advice, lectures and participation. In 1985 Dr. Steele was nominated as a member of the advisory board of the Federal Health Office in Berlin / Germany. He supported the President mainly in questions of national and international Health Care and Public Health considering especially Veterinary Public Health experiences in zoonoses control, in food hygiene and food-borne disease control. He acted very successfully building bridges between the US Surgeon General, the US Public Health Service, the Center of Disease Control in Atlanta and the NiH?s in Washington on the one hand and the 6 institutes of the Federal Health Office (e.g. Robert Koch-Institute) on the other hand.
For all his activities in 1992 he was awarded the "Medal of Merit" during the inauguration ceremony of the newly constructed Robert von Ostertag-Institute of the Federal Health Office, the only central Federal Veterinary Public Health-Institute in Germany. His remarkable contributions in the field of food irradiation as one important way to eliminate agens in food of animal origin initiated heated discussions in Germany and among the EU member states. Beyond that Dr. Steele developed close contacts to scientists, teachers and students not only in Germany but also in various member states of the EU and in Eastern European countries. There he acted always as a kind of ambassador to unify countries and people to overcome ideologies by means of accomplishments on a very high level and information on the basis of liberty and democracy. There is no other person but him who was better suited to do so: a well-known and recognised scientist and expert internationally, a personality with an excellent reputation, personal integrity and character, an outstanding example with respect to bringing people together and to preparing our veterinary students for their professional future with enthusiasm and an up-to-date curriculum. To emphasize is his remarkable capability describing convincingly the importance of Veterinary Medicine for the development of Public Health, to better lives of both "animals and people" which is combined with the highest level of professional accomplishments in this field.
His monographs and numerous publications in particular in the field of zoonosis prove to be a highly valuable and important source of information and knowledge both for scientists and students alike.
Dr. Steele was able to establish a network of contacts and friendly relations with most of the Colleges of Veterinary Medicine world-wide and in our region. This proved to be very valuable for the city of Berlin and its faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the Free University. After the unification of Germany in 1989 Dr. Steele was the first lecturer from the United States to speak at the Humboldt-University (former East-Berlin). Indeed: Professor Dr. James H. Steele "Mr. Veterinary Public Health", as he was called by his students, is a recognised leader in this field world-wide.
Colleagues and friends all over the world congratulate Professor Dr. James Harlan Steele on his 90th birthday, and thank him very much for his efforts to fight against zoonoses and to promote in such a convincing way the role of veterinarians in the field of Public Health and comparative medicine during his sixty-year professional career.
We would like to wish him and his charming wife Brigitte our best wishes for the years to come in health and happiness.
Prof. Dr. Dieter Gro?klaus,
President of the Federal Health Office (retired), Berlin (Germany)