Augsburg News

News Archives - 2003

Leland Fairbanks ’53: 'A man's work is his mission'

June 2003

Leland Fairbanks squashing a cigarette box.Leland Fairbanks grew up in a poverty-stricken home in Harmony, Minn., during the depression-era years and has since applied this experience to his life's work. Helping others has become his passion, his trademark, and his calling—and through this he has learned that "life is more than just earning a living."

A 1953 graduate of Augsburg with bachelor's degrees in sociology and chemistry, Fairbanks went on to receive his medical training from the University of Minnesota Medical School and his master's degree in public health from the University of Oklahoma.

Although he yearned to be a missionary, Fairbanks' decision to enter the field of medicine forever changed his life, leading him to discover that service to others could be his mission. For this he credits Augsburg, and says, "service to others was always portrayed as the reason Augsburg College existed."

Fairbanks spent more than 30 years working on Indian reservations for the U.S. Public Health Service, and continued his dedication to a life in public health by promoting the hospice movement and campaigning to lower the D.U.I. limits in Arizona.

However, Fairbanks is best known for his work to ban smoking in hospitals. He remembers that in the 1950s, "workplaces and hospitals were like smoke-filled dungeons. No one else seemed willing to stand up for those most affected because of a risk of offending someone." Fairbanks added, "I started the movement because someone needed to do it."

It has been this fight against the tobacco and liquor industries that Fairbanks has found to be the most challenging—yet most rewarding—part of his career. For his work, Fairbanks has earned several awards and honors, including an appointment in the early 1980s by then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to expand the ban on smoking to include all public facilities.

Although retired in 2000 from Cigna HealthCare where he worked as a family physician, Fairbanks has continued his involvement in public health service. He currently serves as president of Arizonans Concerned About Smoking, and also serves as ex-officio member of the Executive Committee for International Network Towards Smoke-Free Hospitals, a London-based organization that works to promote smoke-free hospitals around the world.

Reflecting upon his career, Fairbanks embraces Martin Luther's quote, "a man's work is his mission," and concludes, "my work has been my mission and continues to be."