Dr. David Stevens, a retired orthopedic surgeon who during 16 years on the Urban County Council championed Lexington’s groundbreaking ban on smoking in indoor public places, has died at age 87.
“It was a shock,” said his son, Dr. Scott Stevens, who found him at home Monday evening. “He had been doing well.”
From 1992 until 2008, Stevens served three terms as an at-large council member and as the 5th District representative. In the 1970s, he was a member of the merger commission that drafted the charter for Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.
“David Stevens lived a life that lifted up and cared for others,” Mayor Jim Gray said in a statement. “He was a touchstone for all things good and generous in Lexington. He epitomized what a citizen and a gentleman should be, and indeed in countless ways, he made our city a better and healthier place to live.”
“What a good man he was,” former Mayor Pam Miller said. “He was public-spirited from the first day of his career. Always positive. Always trying to do what was right.”
Ellen Hahn, a nursing professor at the University of Kentucky, said Stevens was the only public official to attend a two-day conference that she helped put on in 2000 about the dangers of secondhand smoke. The evidence convinced Stevens and, over the next three years, he persuaded other council members in 2003 to enact the region’s first municipal smoking ban. After the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld the law, it went into effect in 2004.
“He was a visionary,” Hahn said. “And he provided the leadership in a steady, calm way. He cared about public health.”
Stevens was active in many other community groups, including the Lexington-Fayette Board of Health, the Blue Grass Airport board, the Picnic with the Pops Commission, the Park & Recreation Advisory Board; the Town and Gown Commission, the Corridors Commission and the Infill Redevelopment Steering Committee. He also helped create the Purchase of Development Rights program to protect Fayette County farmland.
Several Urban County Council members spoke about Stevens’ dedication to the city during Wednesday’s work session.
“He was a mentor,” said Councilman Fred Brown, who served more than a decade with Stevens and recalled him as a gifted surgeon, public official, pilot, amateur historian and wit. “There was not much he could not do.”
Councilman Bill Farmer Jr. remembered Stevens’ great sense of humor as well as his many accomplishments.
“He had the driest wit of anyone I know,” Farmer said. “He was one of those people you were always glad to see.”
Vice Mayor Steve Kay said Stevens “was the epitome of a public servant.”
As an orthopedic surgeon, Stevens was in private practice for 20 years and then spent two more decades as chief of staff of Shriners Hospital for Children. He also served for many years as the sports physician for Henry Clay High School and Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.
“He was a dear friend to many of us here,” Shriners Hospital said in a statement. “He is truly a significant part of the fabric of this hospital and will be remembered with great fondness and admiration.”
Stevens was a founding member and board chairman of the Central Kentucky Blood Center in 1968, and its first donor.
Also in the 1960s, he and Dr. Clifton Smith, a Lexington dermatologist, traveled to Eastern Kentucky regularly to provide care at what they called the “skin and bones” clinic, said Scott Stevens, a radiologist at UK Healthcare.
Stevens taught at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, was president of the Fayette County Medical Society and was a member of the University Community Caucus of the National League of Cities.
He was on the board of the Bluegrass Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and at age 83 in 2012, he accompanied his son and 15-year-old grandson, David, on a 60-mile backpacking trip through Philmont Scout Reservation in New Mexico.
Stevens received the Honorary Alumnus Award from the University of Kentucky and the Old Gold Goblet, recognizing professional achievement and service, from DePauw University, from which he graduated in 1951.
Stevens grew up in Louisville, where his father was a pressman for The Courier-Journal and a union organizer. Before going to medical school, Stevens also worked briefly as a pressman.
Visitation will be 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday at Milward’s on Broadway and at 10 a.m. Saturday at Crestwood Christian Church, 1882 Bellefonte Drive. The funeral will be at the church at 11 a.m. Saturday, with a reception afterward. There will be a private burial at Lexington Cemetery.
Staff Writer Beth Musgrave contributed to this report.