OSense O-Sense

The First Chief Environmental Health Officer of the USPHS

Thomas Edward Crow, 1998-2001

Tom was born in Elizabethton, Tennessee on November 12, 1949. When he was three years old his family moved to Hampton, Virginia, where he received most of his public education. The family moved back to Elizabethton during Tom’s junior year of high school. He graduated from Unaka High School in Elizabethton in 1968, where he played football and basketball and served as captain of the track team. During his senior year, Tom set the Unaka High School record for the mile run. Following his graduation from high school, Tom worked briefly as a textile worker for Beaunit Fibers in Elizabethton, where he learned the importance of getting a college degree.

Tom graduated from East Tennessee State University (ETSU) in August of 1972 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education. Tom received a stipend from the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) during his junior and senior years at ETSU, so immediately after graduation he began his two-year payback obligation as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army. Following his Officers Basic Course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Tom was assigned to the 629th Medical Company at Fort Ord, California as a Field Medical Pla toon Leader. In that capacity he was responsible for a platoon of 35 field medics and the administration of a 40-bed field medical facility. During his assignment with the 629th , Tom had occasion to work with the battalion environmental health detachment. As a result of that relationship, Tom developed an interest in environmental heath that sparked the remainder of his professional career.

Tom left the Army in September of 1974 to pursue graduate school. He worked briefly as a bookkeeper for a Johnson City bakery while his application for graduate school was being processed. He entered the Master of Science in Environmental Health program at ETSU in September of 1975, and graduated with an MSEH in December of 1976. Following graduation from ETSU, Tom worked as a furniture salesman while his USPHS application was being processed. He was commissioned as a PHS Commissioned Officer in April of 1977 and reported for duty at his first assignment as a District Sanitarian in Minot, North Dakota. Over the ne xt 14 years, Tom served with the Indian Health Service as a Service Unit Sanitarian in Keams Canyon, Arizona; the Institutional Environmental Health Officer for the Phoenix Area Indian Health Service; and the Environmental Health Services Branch Chief in Billings, Montana. In September of 1991 Tom was selected as the Indian Health Service Environmental Health Services Branch Chief in Rockville, Maryland, where he stayed until his retirement in August of 2001. During his time in Headquarters, Tom served on the Board of Directors of the Commissioned Officers Association and two terms as the Chair of the Sanitarian Professional Advisory Committee (SPAC). His term as SPAC Chair was noteworthy for enhancing the professional image of the Sanitarian Category. During his Chairmanship, Tom led the SPAC to revise the appointment standards and establish standing committees to support career development, mentorship, and professional image and standards. He also instituted the John C. Eason, Edward (Ted) Moran, and John G. Todd Awards to recognize noteworthy career achievements by members of our Category.

Acting Surgeon General Jarret Clinton appointed Tom to the position of Chief Sanitarian Officer of the USPHS in 1998. Tom’s legacy as Chief Professional Officer was characterized by his efforts to revitalize the Category and the professional image of the practitioner of environmental health. The first step of the revitalization effort was the strengthening of the appointment standards, by specifying degree requirements that were more in line with the actual needs of the Corps and the degrees that were required by the profession. The second step was to establish career tracks that would give guidance to individual officers in their career planning. The final step was to choose a name for the category that accurately reflected the fullness of who we are as environmental health practitioners, whether we were sanitarians, environmental health specialists, industrial hygienists, or health physicists. Following many months of often heated debate, the category name was officially changed to the Environmental Health Officer Category on October 1, 1999. On that date, Tom officially became the last Chief Sanitarian Officer and the first Chief Environmental Health Officer.

In 2005 the Environmental Health Officer Professional Advisory Committee (EHOPAC) established the Thomas E. Crow Mentor Award in Tom’s honor. The Crow Award is presented each year to recognize significant contributions by an individual who has enhanced professional growth and career development of environmental health professionals working in the United States Public Health Service by serving in a mentoring capacity. This award is presented annually at the American Academy Sanitarians/National Environmental Health Association Conference.

Following his retirement from the USPHS, Tom worked as a private consultant for four years until he became the Director of Environmental Health for the Fairfax County, Virginia Health Department in February of 2006. Fairfax County has the largest environmental health program in the State of Virginia, serving more than one million people with a staff of 70 environmental health specialists and administrative support staff. Being the most affluent county in Virginia and directly adjoining the District of Columbia, Fairfax County (and by association its environmental health program) also receives close media scrutiny as well, which makes Tom’s new job extremely interesting.

Tom married the former Kathleen Faye Grindstaff on November 17, 1972 in Elizabethton, Tennessee. Tom and Kathleen blessed to be the parents of two sons, Nathan and Ryan. They enjoy church activities, hiking, camping, and just generally hanging out together as a family.