David Stevens, who died unexpectedly Monday at age 87, was a man whose calm demeanor and subtle wit belied his profound commitment to meaningful public service.
Stevens, who served on the Urban County Council for 16 years, played critical roles in the creation of that government and in some of its most forward-looking actions. He is best known as the originator and greatest champion of Lexington’s smoking ban, which went into effect in April 2004.
It is hard today, when a third of Kentuckians are covered by workplace smoking bans, to appreciate the courage it took at that time to propose Kentucky’s first ban — and one of the first in this part of the country — or the hard, persistent work required to pass it in the heart of tobacco country.
But Stevens persisted and we are healthier for his efforts.
Fayette County had 22 percent fewer asthma-related emergency room visits in the first 32 months after the ban went into effect, measures of nicotine levels in the hair of bar and restaurant workers dropped by 56 percent, and the county’s smoking rate dropped from 26 percent to 17.5 percent.
Despite dire predictions otherwise, bars and restaurants flourished once clean air was added to their menus.
Although Stevens’ name will always be associated with the smoking ordinance — the Kentucky Center for Smokefree Policy has named an advocacy award in his honor — he contributed to many advances that shaped modern Lexington and Fayette County.
In the early ’70s he served on the committee that wrote the charter for the new, combined Urban County Government. On the council he championed farmland preservation while also working to protect the character of existing neighborhoods as the city developed.
As chair of the Corridors Committee, he worked to improve the tree canopy both downtown and on the major arteries leading into Lexington. Throughout the divisive debate over local ownership of the water company, Stevens consistently advocated for hiring independent analysts to evaluate the economic benefits or drawbacks of a public takeover.
Although Stevens, a retired orthopedic surgeon, did not shy away from controversy, his soft speech, unfailing courtesy and good humor earned the respect and admiration of those with whom he served, even when they disagreed.
Visitation for Stevens will be Friday evening at Milward’s on Broadway and at 10 a.m. Saturday at Crestwood Christian Church, with the funeral following at 11 a.m.
Those who served with him in government and the hundreds who knew him in other capacities can agree, as we do, with Mayor Jim Gray’s comments: “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.”