William Anderson Betts

by Lynn McMillen
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William Anderson Betts Profile Photo Dr. William Anderson Betts died peacefully in Nashville, Tennessee on Friday, September 15, 2023 after an extended illness. He was 83. A native of Meridian, Mississippi, William was a retired Captain (06) Scientist Director and a Commissioned Officer in the United States Public Health Service. William is survived by daughters and sons-in-law Elizabeth Betts Hickman (John) of Nashville and Catherine Betts Ballenger (Craig) of Hendersonville, Tennessee, granddaughter Ava Brooke Ballenger and beloved cousins in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.


William devoted his whole life to work that helped others. As a boy he sold newspapers and loved being an amateur radio operator. He was an Eagle Scout and exceptionally proud of his God and Country award. At 16, he volunteered for the Mississippi National Guard and later served with the U.S. Army Reserve.


A graduate of Meridian High School and Mississippi State University, William served from 1963-1965 as a Malaria Specialist in the Republic of South Viet Nam as a volunteer with International Volunteer Services, Inc. (the prototype for the Peace Corps) and worked with the World Health Organization (WHO). He earned a Master of Public Health degree in Environmental Health and Public Health Administration from the University of Minnesota, and then taught at the University of Hawaii for a one-year assignment to train new Peace Corps volunteers for community health work. He earned his Doctor of Public Health degree in Preventive Medicine and Public Health from Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

In 1969, he took the oath as a Commissioned Officer in the United States Public Health Service and spent his career in the Indian Health Service (IHS), first in Montana working with Plains Native Americans and later with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, where he assisted the tribe in establishing the first tribally operated health service system, and finally in the Nashville Area Office where he worked with tribal governments in ten states to develop, organize and implement tribal primary health systems. He relentlessly focused his life’s work on improving the health and well-being of Native Americans in the U.S. and promoting preventive medicine.


In the early 1970s William was selected to be the U.S. Director for a high-level, eight-year health research project in the former country of Yugoslavia to develop their first rural public health system. Among many accomplishments, the research reduced infant mortality in the study area by 50% in three years and emphasized preventive medicine, with a special focus on women’s health. In 1984, he was selected by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop to serve on his Scientist Advisory Board, which involved regular trips to Washington, D.C. to work on public health policy.


Among many professional and military awards, William Betts was awarded the U.S. Public Health Service Distinguished Service Medal, the highest decoration of the Service, presented by the U.S. Surgeon General.


A private family burial will be held with a Celebration of Life to be scheduled at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Native Research Network (supporting Native American health scientists interested in native health research), www.nativeresearchnetwork.org or the Abe’s Garden Community Employee Appreciation Fund, c/o Abe’s Garden Community, www.abesgarden.org

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