Tribute to Dr. Ellen Alkon
Ellen Skillen Bogen Alkon, M.D, (84) died December 30, 2020 of kidney failure, with her daughter Cynthia by her side. She is survived by her daughters Cynthia and Margaret and her brother David and was preceded in death by her husband Paul Alkon (died January 13, 2020) and eldest daughter Kathy (died October 5, 2008).
The tribute below was written by AAPHP friend and Dr. Alkon's daughter Margaret. The original version appears on this Facebook page: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=3540932229357254&id=100003215357583&sfnsn=mo Dr. Alkon's obituary is here: Ellen Alkon Obituary (1936 - 2021) - Los Angeles Times (legacy.com)
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She loved being “Aunt Ellen” and keeping in touch with family and friends and loved telling stories of her life in public health, especially of her childhood at Olive View Tuberculosis Sanatorium where her dad Emil Bogen ran the laboratories and did medical research and her mom Jane Skillen Bogen Rost was a surgeon. Family stories were intertwined with the history of public health in Southern California - this year’s COVID pandemic prompted her to remember that as a young resident her dad was an early responder to the 1924 outbreak of the plague in Los Angeles. Her daughter pulling an angel food cake cutter out of the drawer prompted a memory of how frequently they ate Angel Food Cake at Olive View because her father would take the egg yokes for his research experiments, leaving a plethora of egg whites.
A doctor with a lifeline passion for public health, Dr. Alkon worked as a pediatrician at Highland Alameda County Hospital in Oakland, California before moving to the Minneapolis Health Department, where in 1973 she became Director of Maternal and Child Health. From 1975-1980, she was Commissioner of Health at the Minneapolis Health Department.
After moving back to her native southern California in 1980, she worked in a variety of leadership positions in the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, including Medical Director for Public Health and Chief Executive Officer, Medical Director of the Long Beach Comprehensive Health Center, Public Health Chief (West Area), and Director of Public Health Education for Physicians. She “retired” from the Los Angeles health department more than once but was so enthusiastic about educating doctors about public health that she kept returning to work with young doctors.
A huge believer in education, Dr. Alkon earned a B.A. from Stanford in 1955, an MD from the University of Chicago Medical School in 1961 and a M.P.H. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1968. She was an Adjunct Professor Emeritus at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
She was also a strong believer in doing the organizing work that turns good ideas into reality. In 1975, she was working long hours, had three children and two jobs and still found time to testify before Congress on the positive impact and importance of the WIC Program on the health of mothers and young children.
She was a leader in Public Health Organizations, especially the Southern California Public Health Association (https://www.scpha.org) and the American Association of Public Health Physicians (https://www.aaphp.org) and strongly supported the creation of local advocacy organizations like Public Health Advocates (https://phadvocates.org).
The best way to honor Dr. Ellen Alkon’s memory is to make a donation to a public health or educational organization in her memory. If you don’t know of an organization close to you, donations to the public health organizations with which my mom was involved (links above) can be in her memory and earmarked for scholarships for memberships or attendance at meetings so the next generation of public health leaders can continue the public health tradition.
At the APHA meeting San Diego in 2018, I think it was the then-current president of AAPHP that gave mom an award to recognize all that she had done.
This is also from the 2018 APHA meeting. I am not sure which session but I have a vague memory it was one sponsored by either SCPHA or AAPHP, and when there was a call for comments mom was quick to get in line to say something (and of course it was a good comment bringing in her years of experience doing public health work).