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From the Townsend Letter
November 2006


Maureen Salaman (1936-2006)
by Peter Barry Chowka

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Maureen Kennedy Salaman, well-known for more than three decades as a proponent of the freedom to choose and use alternative therapies, died on August 17, 2006 at age 70 at her home in Atherton, California, south of San Francisco. According to her friend Scott Tips, she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2005 and it eventually took her life.

Maureen SalamanAt the time of her death, Salaman was the president of the National Health Federation, a position she had held almost continuously since the early 1980s. Founded in 1955, the NHF is a membership organization that lobbies in support of health freedom and advocates a variety of alternative and unconventional therapies.

Maureen Salaman was the author of about ten books on various aspects of nutrition and health, and in recent years she was one of the hosts of an infomercial-type cable and satellite television program about health and nutrition,
Making Healthy Choices.

Maureen Salaman first came to public attention in the early 1970s. With her second husband, businessman Frank Salaman, she helped to organize the defense of John Richardson, M.D. Richardson was prosecuted by the Alameda County District Attorney in July 1972 for using the unapproved alternative cancer treatment laetrile in his medical practice. The Salamans, Robert and Carole Bradford, and Michael Culbert, all of whom shared a Libertarian political outlook, founded the Committee for Freedom of Choice in Cancer Therapy to support Richardson.

Before long, the Salamans and their associates were riding the crest of an emerging holistic health wave and a Watergate-era distrust of large institutions. The northern California-based Choice Committee quickly evolved into a nationwide grassroots effort involving thousands of people focused on decriminalizing laetrile state by state, and advocating the awareness and use of an expanding number of other alternative therapies. The Salamans, the Bradfords, and Culbert were the principal facilitators, and among the high level braintrust (or, as Culbert, a wry wordsmith who died in 2004, might have put it, the "ministers of propaganda"), behind this effort.

A comprehensive, balanced history of the dramatic and colorful decade in American medical history, lasting from 1972 until approximately 1982, during which battles on behalf of laetrile and freedom of choice were fought across the country, has yet to be written. As one of the observers who was around then, this author remembers the period as a unique, unpredictable, and colorful era when a new wave of primary, unconventional alternative therapies suddenly emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, accompanied by a highly effective, pro-medical freedom political effort that inspired the public (both left and right) to think about using alternative therapies, captivated the mainstream media, grabbed the attention of politicians, and for a time even put the powerful American medical establishment on the defensive. Maureen Salaman and her cohorts – who were considered by the country's power structure to be questionable at best and promoters of dangerous quackery at worst – had an undeniably significant impact on these developments in the 1970s, as well as on the future of alternative medicine and related trends, including medical pluralism, autonomy, self-care, and personal empowerment, well into the next century.

In the 1970s, one of the roles Maureen Salaman played was as an editor of
The Choice – the flagship periodical of the pro-laetrile and -freedom of medical choice movements. An articulate public speaker, Maureen Salaman was very adept at presenting the arguments for alternative medicine and freedom of medical choice in the mainstream media.

In the early 1980s, with the laetrile battles finally quieting down, Maureen began writing books on nutrition and health and marketing nutritional supplements and other natural products. She also became involved in the leadership of the National Health Federation. For the rest of her life she played a – if not the most - prominent role at the NHF – in its governance, public meetings, and publications, including writing for and editing the NHF's quarterly publication
Health Freedom News up until the time of her death.

As an example of her political activity, Maureen Salaman, who was philosophically distrustful of government, was the candidate for vice president of the U.S. on the Populist Party ticket in 1984. She and her running mate, former Olympic gold medal winning athlete Bob Richards, received 66,324 votes nationally. The major party candidates that year were Senator Walter Mondale (D-MN) and incumbent Republican President Ronald Reagan. The candidates of three other "third parties" came in ahead of Richards and Salaman, and many other minor parties made up the rear in the national voting that year.

Like many people who seek or attain a degree of prominence or visibility in a controversial field like alternative medicine, Maureen Salaman had her critics – and her defenders, too. One of the latter, Maureen's friend and longtime NHF attorney Scott Tips, wrote two days after her death, in an obituary published in the
San Francisco Chronicle, "Petite, yet willful, Maureen often surprised those who did not know her with the force and persistence of her energy, drive, and intelligence."

I recall Maureen most vividly from the early 1980s, when I often encountered her at alternative medicine meetings and conferences. She was an energetic, enthusiastic, and sincere advocate and an extremely effective speaker on behalf of her interests and causes. She didn't lack for a sense of humor, either. In those days over two decades ago, I knew Maureen well enough to confirm that she "walked the talk," so to speak – unlike some others in the field, she was dedicated to a lifestyle she considered health promoting, including eating whole, minimally processed, and organic foods; taking lots of nutritional supplements; exercising; and avoiding harmful environmental influences.

A memorial service for Maureen Salaman was held on August 21st at the church she attended, the Cathedral of Faith in San Jose, California. Scott Tips and his sister Cheri Tips (both of whom work for the NHF) commemorated Maureen's life and work in the Fall 2006 issue of
Health Freedom News.

Text and photo © Peter Barry Chowka

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