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A Champion for Health-Care Equity

By Ann Klein

World affairs, human rights, the rural poor—all were common themes at the dinner table during Lila May Walkden Flounders’s childhood in Olmsted Falls, Ohio. Times were hard for almost everyone then, in the depths of the Great Depression, but her parents always had a meal and time for the visitors who stopped to speak at their Congregational church.

“We weren’t discussing the weather or the neighbors next door,” Flounders explained recently from her home in Lantana, Fla. “We were talking about what could be done.” After childhood, she went on to study international relations in Washington, D.C., and hosted a radio show on foreign policy.

Lila May Walkden Flounders
Lila May Walkden Flounders

Recently she cemented her legacy of social responsibility by establishing several charitable gift annuities to support the C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth in honor of her husband and son. It’s a beautiful tribute to two men whose alma mater, Dartmouth College, also produced one of America’s strongest public health advocates. Flounders greatly admired Koop for his willingness to take on big challenges and confront powerful interests as Surgeon General in the 1980s. Flounders fondly recalls that the last time she and her husband went out socially together, it was to a Phi Beta Kappa luncheon honoring Koop.

“Dr. Koop took a great deal of pride in the fact that people called him ‘America’s family doctor’ and the most trusted doctor in America,” says Joseph O’Donnell, MD, senior scholar at the Koop Institute and senior advising dean at the Geisel School of Medicine. “Mrs. Flounders’ generosity will help us build on Dr. Koop’s work, instilling in our youth the values that Dr. Koop stood for: mentorship, advocacy, and service to patients and all of mankind.”

Notably, Flounders’ philanthropic support of the Koop Institute will help fund rural medicine projects with a focus on women’s health. “Until women can earn money and not be fettered by medical problems caused by a lack of care, they will not move ahead,” she says.

Through her father and others in her family, Flounders learned early on the role health care, or the lack thereof, can play in a family’s fate. As an investor in the Tennessee Valley Authority development of the 1930s, her father—one of 13 children himself—bore witness to the struggles of people striving to provide for huge families far from medical care. Her aunt and namesake, a PhD nurse, brought similar stories from a tour of duty in World War II Europe. And her elders recounted the devastation and personal setbacks ancestors suffered when disease took a parent or spouse.

“I was brought up with the idea that you have got to make a contribution,” says Flounders. “I think now that this is the way to do it.”