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George James was born in 1915 in New York City, but moved to New Rochelle, NY when he was very young. He graduated from Columbia University in 1937, Yale School of Medicine in 1941, and received a Masters in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University in 1945. He trained in pediatrics and his early career was spent in public health work. In 1956 he became the Deputy Commissioner of Health for New York City and was named full Commissioner in 1962. During his tenure with the Health Department, he achieved the long sought goal of the fluoridation of the City’s water supply, opened health clinics, and worked hard on reaching out to the community, and backing his decisions with data. Long interested in education, he served on the faculty of Yale University School of Medicine, Columbia University School of Public Health and Administration, the Harvard School of Public Health, and Albany Medical College, among others.
During his time at Mount Sinai he was responsible for the day to day efforts of creating a school from the ground up. He oversaw the building program that created the Annenberg Building, the search for an academic affiliation for the school, the addition of basic science faculty and staff, and the creation of a governance structure including every policy and procedure needed to run a school. He worked closely with Gustave L. Levy, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and with other Trustees on the many and varied fund raising and policy issues that arose.
One of the more difficult roles James played was as President of The Mount Sinai Medical Center, trying to manage the needs and desires of the Hospital and the new School. The Director of the Hospital had traditionally reported to the Trustees and was the chief executive. With the activation of the Medical Center structure, the Director, S. David Pomrinse, MD, now reported to the President/Dean, a sometimes uncomfortable and contentious situation.
Throughout his years at Mount Sinai Dr. James remained active in various public health organizations, and served as a member of many public commissions and task forces. He was a strong and early advocate against smoking. He published over 190 papers in his career.
Dr. James had suffered a stroke in 1971. In March 1972 he had a second stroke that led to his death on March 19th. His loss was a heavy blow to the young school.
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