PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – Former director of the Allegheny County Health Department, Dr. Bruce Dixon, passed away Wednesday morning at age 74.
According to sources, Dr. Dixon was taken to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital Tuesday afternoon. Dixon died around 12:48 a.m.
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office said Dr. Dixon died from a blood infection related to a sudden inflammation of his gallbladder.
He had been the director of the department for nearly 20 years, before the Board of Health removed him from the position last year.
In 1989, focusing on the AIDS crisis, Dr. Dixon said: “We could be facing this threat for the next eight to 10 years.”
Then, in 1994 when families were worried about E. coli bacteria, he knew what to look for: “It’s more likely to come from a fast-food setting than from food prepared at home,” he said then.
From the health concerns about do-it-yourself ear piercing kits in 1991, he recommended: “Wash it off with alcohol. Wash it off with dilute Clorox.”
And when a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in a local hospital made news in 1992, long before the current outbreak, Dr. Dixon explained: “It’s in the pipes and it picks up bacteria.”
Dr. Dixon was the go to guy for health matters and health answers, reflecting 20 years as department director.
But Dr. William Pasculle, director of microbiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and a Wilkinsburg High School classmate of Dixon, says Dixon’s legacy is relatively simple.
“I think first and foremost Dr. Dixon cared about this community,” said Dr. Pasculle. “He was a proponent of the common man and the downtrodden in particular and he made sure that the county did all it could to take care of groups such as the homeless, people with HIV/AIDS.”
Former Allegheny County coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht says he and Dixon collaborated on issues like drug use and black infant mortality when the public health was at risk.
He told KDKA’s Harold Hayes this about Dixon:
“I shall miss him very much as a friend. He was gracious; he was unpretentious, mired and always available. You could talk with him in a very friendly relaxed… there was never any kind of official, officious governmental condescending attitude from him, and that, Harold, is something regrettably that we do not encounter very often in dealing with political officials.”
His recent dispute with the county and his removal as director is well known.
Dixon was ousted by newly-elected County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and had filed a wrongful firing lawsuit over his removal from the post last year.
Fitzgerald released a statement to offer his condolences:
“For over 20 years, Dr. Bruce Dixon was the ultimate public servant, dedicating his life to serving the needs of the residents of Allegheny County through his direction of the Allegheny County Health Department. The time and dedication he committed to the Department during his tenure was extensive. While we differed in how the Health Department should move forward, the service he provided was admired and will not be forgotten soon.”
Dixon lived in the Pittsburgh suburb of Forest Hills and became a consultant to the Health Department in 1979 before he was hired in 1992 by the county, which was then run by a three-member board of commissioners.
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