Irving I. Rimer ’43

Irving I. Rimer ’43, whose ad campaigns for the American Cancer Society can be credited in part for dramatically reducing smoking rates in the U.S., died October 14, 2014, in Chapel Hill, N.C. He was born on May 25, 1921, in Salem, Mass., graduated second in his class at Salem Classical and High School. He attended Bowdoin from 1939 to 1941, where he nurtured what became a lifelong passion for public speaking, the poetry of Robert Frost and Albert Schweitzer’s Reverence for Life. He transferred in his junior year to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, graduating in 1943. He served to sergeant in the Army as a medic with the 63rd Division, 253rd Infantry Regiment, and saw active duty in Germany from the fall of 1944 through the war’s end. He was awarded a Purple Heart for a shrapnel injury and the Silver Star for bravery for running through enemy gunfire to treat a wounded soldier and wait with him until the battle eased. He was credited with saving the soldier’s life. He earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Social Services Administration in 1946. He began his career with the American Cancer Society (ACS) in the 1950s, an era when the media were dominated by tobacco industry advertising that glamorized smoking. Nearly 60 percent of adults smoked. With scientific studies linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer, he oversaw the development of a series of anti-smoking TV spots that set a new standard for public service announcements: The first showed a little boy and girl dressing up in their parents’ clothes. The voiceover said, “Children imitate their parents. Do you smoke cigarettes?” By the mid-1980s, he was the ACS vice president for public information, when he brought to the networks a controversial animated spot showing a fetus smoking a cigarette, as a warning about smoking risks during pregnancy. Upon his retirement in 1988, C. Everett Koop, the U.S. surgeon general, wrote him that the “success of the American Cancer Society over the last 30 years has been greatly furthered by your efforts at shaping its image and important role in the fight against cancer,” and credited him with being instrumental to the success of the annual Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking. In retirement, he volunteered at University of North Carolina Hospital’s Burn Center, and worked with the chaplain to start what became an annual Celebration of Life reunion for burn survivors. He is survived by his daughters, Barbara, Elizabeth and Sara, and two grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife of 65 years, Joan Engel Rimer.


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