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John P. McGovern, MD (1921 – 2007)

The John P. McGovern Historical Collections and Research Center is named after a great patron of medicine and the humanities. John P. McGovern, MD (1921-2007) was recognized internationally as an American physician, researcher, historian, author, philosopher, humanitarian and philanthropist. He was the author or coauthor of twenty-two books and 247 publications, and served as the editor or member of editorial boards of more than twenty scientific journals.

Dr. McGovern was the recipient of numerous awards and the holder of seventeen professorships. The American Medical Association presented him with the Special Award for Meritorious Service and said he was truly a giant in American Medicine.

Dr. McGovern had a long-standing commitment to education in the form of teaching, research and scholarship. He loved libraries and was a Presidential-appointee to the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine. His personal library of rare books and personal papers form the core of the collections at The John P. McGovern Historical Collections and Research Center. The Center is a living commitment to Dr. McGovern’s vision for excellence in scholarship and research.

Scholarship and Dr. McGovern

Dr. McGovern’s long-standing commitment to education, in the form of teaching, research and scholarship, led to his appointment to seventeen professorships at fifteen universities. In 1976, he was awarded the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Duke University where he received both his Bachelor of Science and medical degrees. The American School Health Association awarded him the Distinguished Alumnus Award, as well as their highest honor, the William A. Howe Award. He was a Presidential appointee to the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine, which he chaired in 1973-74. In 1990, the American Association of Colleges of Nurses awarded him the annual Outstanding Scholarship in Health Care Award and in 1991, he received the Outstanding Alumnus Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Alumni of Greater Houston. In all, he was awarded honorary degrees from twenty-eight major colleges and universities. In addition, Dr. McGovern was the author or co-author of over 240 publications, including twenty-one books and served as editor, associate editor, or member of the editorial board of more than twenty scientific journals. His leadership was exemplified as chief elected officer or president of at least fifteen prominent societies in the humanities, health education science and medicine.

Service Activity

Service was always important to Dr. McGovern. In 1985, he received the Private Sector Initiative Commendation from U.S. President Ronald Reagan for his lifetime of meritorious service in medicine and generous contributions to his community. He was appointed to a four-year term in 1987 on the National Advisory Council of the Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute of Health. The following year brought the American Medical Writer’s Association’s highest honor, the Harold Swanberg Distinguished Service Award and the American Medical Association’s Board of Directors’ Special Award for Meritorious Service, the latter calling Dr. McGovern truly one of the giants in American Medicine. In 1989, then-Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop awarded him the Surgeon General’s Medal for his lifetime of meritorious and multi-faceted contributions to the broad field of health promotion and disease prevention and specifically, more recently for his seminal work on our Drunk Driving Initiative.

The Houston Academy of Medicine John P. McGovern Compleat Physician Award

In 1993, the Houston Academy of Medicine inaugurated a special annual award named the Houston Academy of Medicine John P. McGovern Compleat Physician Award. The Award recognizes a physician who embodies exemplary service to humanity, one whose career reflects a foundation on the Oslerian ideals (medical excellence, humane and ethical care) commitment to the medical humanities and writing, research and harmony between the academician and the medical practitioner.


The criteria for the McGovern Award includes a humanitarian perspective and Dr. McGovern’s generous philanthropy long reflected this. One recipient of this generosity was his alma mater, Duke University. In November of 1998, he donated a $6.5 million gift to the Duke University Medical Center to help build a new children’s health center. The McGovern-Davison Children’s Health Center is named for Dr. McGovern and Dr. Wilburt Cornell Davison (1892-1972), his mentor and long-time friend. Dr. Davison was a pediatrician and the first dean of Duke’s School of Medicine.

For over twenty years, Dr. McGovern served as the honorary curator of rare books for The Texas Medical Center Library. He donated his extensive rare book collection to the Library’s History of Medicine Section of Special Collections in 1982. In 1996, the Library’s Special Collection was renamed in his honor, The John P. McGovern Historical Collections & Research Center.