October 25, 2021

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In Memoriam: Dr. Alton Cobb

Published on Monday, October 25, 2021

The Medical Center extends its sympathy to the family of a former faculty member in appreciation for the loved one’s contributions to the academic health sciences center.

Dr. Alton Cobb

Alton Cobb

Dr. Alton Cobb of Jackson, who was celebrated for his many contributions to, and lasting impact on, public health in Mississippi, died October 14, 2021. He was 92; his death came five days short of his 93rd birthday.

A 1952 graduate of the University of Mississippi's two-year medical school in Oxford, Cobb was known to his family as AI.

For 20 years, starting in 1973, he was director of the Mississippi State Department of Health, helping the state gain national recognition for its public health achievements, many of which endure, including high immunization rates.

Born in a log cabin in the Madison County community of Camden, Cobb started his education in a one-room schoolhouse and would continue to attend public schools. Throughout his life, he remained a steadfast champion of public education.

He attended what was then Holmes Junior College before graduating from the University of Mississippi. After finishing his two-year medical education there, he completed his medical degree in 1954 at the Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, Maryland. World-renowned Medical Center legend Dr. Arthur Guyton wrote Cobb’s recommendation for Johns Hopkins.

Later, he followed up an internship at Charity Hospital in New Orleans with two years of active service in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during the Korean War. He retired from the Mississippi National Guard as a full colonel. In 1960, he received a Master of Public Health Degree from Tulane University.

Eventually, Cobb began what would be a 35-year career with the Mississippi State Department of Public Health. He also served as the first executive director of the Mississippi State Medicaid program.

In 1973, he was appointed State Health Officer for MSDH, led the reorganization of the agency, and remained in that position until 1992. During his tenure, he also led several initiatives, including the establishment of the Mississippi Women’s, Infants’ and Children’s Program; the reduction of infant mortality and tuberculosis rates; the introduction of compulsory school vaccinations; the modernization of public health statutes; the institution of stronger patient protections in nursing homes and tougher licensure regulations for home health care; and the creation of a statewide emergency medical services system.

After retiring from MSDH, he served as clinical consultant for Information and Quality Healthcare. In 2016, Cobb was inducted into the Medical Alumni Hall of Fame at UMMC.

He was named an Alumnus of the Year by Holmes Community College and the Tulane School of Public Health. The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine awarded him the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service.

Cobb received an award of Merit from the American Public Health Association; Public Administrator of the Year honors for Mississippi in 1981; the Blair Batson Award of Merit from the Mississippi Academy of Pediatrics; and the Humanitarian Award from the Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians.

He served for several years as an alternate delegate from Mississippi to the American Medical Association.

After retiring, Cobb contributed to many charities, often on the recommendation of his wife Mary.