Sunday, September 9, 2012
WALLA WALLA — A former state legislator and leader in the development of statewide and local health care, Dr. Peter T. Brooks, died Saturday.
Brooks, 95, served three consecutive terms in the 16th District House of Representatives starting in 1985.
Though most local residents will remember Brooks for his work as a general surgeon at the Walla Walla Clinic, where he served from 1950 until retiring in 1984, he was a key figure in establishing the Tietan Street offices.
“He was definitely instrumental in growing the clinic,” Walla Walla Clinic CEO Duane Lucas-Roberts said.
Soon after joining the clinic, Brooks and several other physicians moved from downtown to 55 W. Tieten St.
“People were wondering why they were buying so many acres of land for so few physicians. And he would say he had a vision, and sure enough it was realized,” Lucas-Roberts said.
As a Republican legislator serving from 1985-90, Brooks was at the forefront of health-care issues, even if it meant criticism from his own party’s conservatives.
“I am much more socially liberal (than most Republicans),” Brooks was quoted as saying in a Feb. 28, 1988, Union-Bulletin article. “I’m much closer to people, I’ve taken care of them all my life. I recognize their needs.”
Two of the then-controversial issues Brooks proposed in the late 1980s were school-based health clinics and AIDS education.
“He was one of the people that was instrumental in introducing legislation about HIV ... He was way ahead of his time, but that was what Peter was like,” said friend and colleague Dr. Richard Simon.
“What I really liked about Peter is that when you needed help, Peter was always there. It made no difference if the patient had insurance or not, Peter was there for him,” Simon added.
An undergraduate of Harvard and graduate of Columbia University Medical College, Brooks graduated in 1942 and then joined the U.S. Navy as a ship’s surgeon. He served in the European and Pacific theaters.
After the war, Brooks and his wife had a desire to move West, and after visiting Walla Walla decided to move here.
“He loved it. He loved the mountains and loved the fact that he had great skiing less than an hour from home. And he loved to fish and hunt and loved the open space,” said Thacher Brooks, his son.
Through the 1990s and the early 2000s Brooks continued to volunteer for organizations such as the Walla Walla Wagon Wheelers and the Fort Walla Walla Museum.
According to family, in the last few years Brooks’ health declined, and he died of congestive heart failure and Alzheimer’s.
“He was always looking out for what was best for society and what was best for his patients ... we lost a great person,” Simon said.