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Edgar Duncan

Accomplished pharmacist Dr. Edgar Newton Duncan was born on February 1, 1932 in Monessen, Pennsylvania to Willie and William Duncan. Duncan’s father worked as a tailor in the first tailor shop in Monessen. Duncan’s mother, graduated from the Tuskegee Institute, became a teacher, married and passed on her love of learning to her six children. Excelling in school, Duncan knew that he wanted to go to college. After graduating from high school as class valedictorian, Duncan went on to Duquesne University.

In 1954, Duncan would be the only black student in his class to graduate from Duquesne University with a B.S. degree in pharmacy. He graduated magna cum laude. At Duquesne University, Duncan would meet Lauraine Thorne, and the two would get married in 1954. In 1956, Duncan became the first black student to graduate with his M.S. degree in hygiene from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH). Duncan began working in the U.S. Public Health Service’s Commissioned Officers Corps, and in 1972, he became the first pharmacist to be promoted to surgeon general. After returning as Associate Dean of GSPH, he began to work with Pitt’s Partners in Education Consortium and other programs to encourage black and other minority youth to pursue health professions. These programs have made a difference for many young minority students.

In 1990, Duncan earned his Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education. He and his wife raised three sons and sent them all to college. Duncan passed away on December 17, 2011.

Duncan was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 13, 2008.

Accession Number

A2008.105

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/13/2008

Last Name

Duncan

Schools

Duquesne University

University Of Pittsburgh Graduate School Of Public Health

University of Pittsburgh

First Name

Edgar

Birth City, State, Country

Monessen

HM ID

DUN04

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

State

Pennsylvania

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Right Place, Right Time, Right Person.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Pennsylvania

Birth Date

2/1/1932

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Pittsburgh

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Pancakes

Death Date

12/17/2011

Short Description

Pharmacist and presidential appointee Edgar Duncan (1932 - 2011 ) was the first black student to graduate with a M.S. degree in hygiene from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health in 1956. He later was the first pharmacist to be promoted to Assistant Surgeon General in 1972.

Employment

Western Pennsylvania Hospital

U.S. Public Health Service Hospital

Indian Health Service

Assistant Surgeon General

Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield of New York

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey

University of Pittsburgh Graduate School

Center for Minority Health

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Edgar Duncan's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Edgar Duncan lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Edgar Duncan describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Edgar Duncan describes his mother's experiences at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Edgar Duncan recalls visiting the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Edgar Duncan describes how his parents met and married

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Edgar Duncan talks about his mother's friendships

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Edgar Duncan describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Edgar Duncan describes his paternal ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Edgar Duncan talks about his father's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Edgar Duncan recalls his family's emphasis on education

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Edgar Duncan remembers his father's profession and talents

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Edgar Duncan recalls his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Edgar Duncan describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Edgar Duncan remembers his community in Monessen, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Edgar Duncan describes the sights, sounds and smells of his neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Edgar Duncan recalls his early education

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Edgar Duncan recalls his early experiences of religion

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Edgar Duncan describes his childhood personality

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Edgar Duncan recalls his mentors in school

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Edgar Duncan recalls his activities at Monessen Vocational High School in Monessen, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Edgar Duncan remembers his early aspirations

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Edgar Duncan recalls his valedictorian speech

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Edgar Duncan remembers Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Edgar Duncan describes his experiences at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Edgar Duncan recalls his extracurricular activities at Duquesne University

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Edgar Duncan remembers his mentors at Duquesne University

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Edgar Duncan recalls attending the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Edgar Duncan recalls his graduation from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Edgar Duncan recalls his accomplishments as a pharmacist in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Edgar Duncan talks about his rank in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Edgar Duncan describes the history of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Edgar Duncan recalls his work with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Edgar Duncan recalls his promotion to assistant surgeon general

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Edgar Duncan reflects upon his role as assistant surgeon general

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Edgar Duncan recalls his roles at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Edgar Duncan describes his position at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Edgar Duncan recalls his role as a researcher for the Health ABC Study

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Edgar Duncan remembers earning a Ph.D. degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Edgar Duncan recalls his retirement from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Edgar Duncan reflects upon his life

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Edgar Duncan reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Edgar Duncan describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Edgar Duncan reflects upon his family

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Edgar Duncan reflects upon the importance of education

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Edgar Duncan describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$3

DAStory

11$9

DATitle
Edgar Duncan recalls his family's emphasis on education
Edgar Duncan recalls his work with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps in Washington, D.C.
Transcript
And we had books in the house and obviously were encouraged to study, not only by our parents [Willie McMillan Duncan and William Duncan, Sr.] but by my mother's sisters [Sadie McMillan and Ruth McMillan]--remember I said they'd all gone to Tuskegee [Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute; Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Alabama]? And the two sisters that are older than I both graduated from Tuskegee and they adopted the brother next to me [William Duncan, Jr.] and myself to help us get through college, but it was--you grew up in Monessen [Pennsylvania] and you were one of those Duncans and so then they didn't ask, "Where are you going to study," or "Do well in school." It's--, "How well were you gonna do in school?" So in the piece it says I graduated valedic- as valedictorian [from Monessen Vocational High School, Monessen, Pennsylvania] that was in part a challenge. My, this brother again next to me and one of his friends sat me down at the kitchen table one night and said, "Okay, your sister graduated sixth, your brother graduated fourth, you can graduate one, and here's what you do to do it," and that's what came to pass. It wasn't I'm you know I'm, I'm just sitting around--, "How many more books can I read? How many more formulas can I work on? How many more chemistry sets can I blow up something with." It was (laughter)--$$Okay.$$(Laughter) You had, you had--fortunately very subtle sometimes pressure.$So you're in Washington, D.C. and were you work- you were working in Washington, D.C. yourself, right?$$Right, well actually in Rockville when the promotion to assistant surgeon general came we were working out in Rockville.$$Rockville, Maryland?$$Yeah.$$Okay, so now, so you worked, you were there over ten years, right in Washington, D.C. from 1962 (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, we're in D.C.$$Until?$$From '62 [1962] to '77 [1977], fifteen years.$$Okay, s'62 [1962] to '77 [1977], okay. Now tell us about the events leading up to you being appointed assistant surgeon general?$$Well, I was working on what it--were called the health delivery programs of the [U.S.] Public Health Service, not the [U.S.] Food and Drug Administration, not NIH [National Institutes of Health], this was the part that actually delivered healthcare to the seamen [U.S. Merchant Marine], Indian [Native American] health services was part of that at the time, federal health program where people have, in companies and things, have programs for their workers and that was the part that I had started out with in Staten Island [New York] and I was still working in that area until it became clear they were not going to maintain and replace the public service health hospitals where mainly the merchant seamen, had gone and that's when I joined the Indian Health Service. Then I spent about a year working in EEO, affirmative action, equal employment opportunity, and I would tell people, "That's not a career," that you should get that job, do what you can with it and move on to some other professional career where you're simply recognized like everybody else in the workforce is recognized, and it was also a time when President Nixon [President Richard Milhous Nixon] had come on board and was decentralizing a lot of things out of Washington and sending them to the ten HEW [U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] regional offices like Chicago [Illinois] and New York [New York], San Francisco [California] and that required some coordination from the, from the headquarters back in the D.C. area and I ended up with that activity being responsible or being concerned about those ten offices, and during that time I pointed out to the person that I was working for that some of it had to do with the pay structures. That I would--I was as high as far as I could go to the rank of captain or colonel in the [U.S.] Army and there were people in secretary and general administrative jobs who were earning higher income than I did, and I was also faced with one son [Eric Duncan] going off to a high cost college and another one [Conrad Duncan] two years behind that and it was make decision time. Do you try to seek a promotion to a higher rank or move on to some, somewhere else in the industry? And so he inquired about, "Is there a problem with your being promoted?" I said, "Yeah, no pharmacist has ever done that." Regardless of what they were doing, the people in charge of pharmacy programs hadn't done it, it hadn't been done by anyone with the pharmacy designation in their, in their rank and he says, "Well let's see if we can do that." And they did it, and because I was not the first African American to become an assistant surgeon general; there'd been a physician and an engineer before me, he says, "But you're the first pharmacist," so that's what went out in the press. Obviously, if I were the first pharmacist, I was the first African American pharmacist but that's how all of that came about, and it was very interesting a few years ago when they honored the people who had become rear admiral in the, in as pharmacists in the Public Health Service [U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps]. Some were from NIH, FDA, all parts of the Public Health Service. There were eleven at that time, but it was certainly an honor to be of, to have been the first one to whatever ceiling that might be called rank ceiling I guess.