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Spring 2008 | Volume 31, Number 1 | Alumni

Detours and Unexpected Destinations

Alumnus of the Year turned early med school rejection into renowned public health career

He did everything right. He scrimped on finances, made excellent grades, and rose to the demands of a rigorous undergraduate premed program. Still, unsure of himself in the medical school application process, he kept receiving the same answer: “No.”

What was this young Chinese immigrant to do?

He decided to tackle the challenge from another direction. Samuel Lin ’65 took his love of the biologic sciences to the University of Oregon (UO) graduate school for a master’s degree in zoology, continued on to the UO Medical School for a doctorate in experimental embryology, and topped it off two years later with an M.D. from the Oregon Health Sciences Center. (Later on, he also earned an M.B.A. from Johns Hopkins University and an M.P.A. from Troy State University.)

Eaton presents Samuel Lin with a plaque
At Homecoming, SPU President Philip Eaton presents Samuel Lin with a plaque commemorating his selection as Alumnus of the Year.

For more photos, visit the Photography Gallery.
He practiced as the Indian Health Service clinical director on the Colville Reservation in Eastern Washington as his payback to the government for supporting his medical training. Then he worked his way up through the ranks in the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) until he was deputy assistant secretary for health and assistant surgeon general of the United States under C. Everett Koop during the Reagan administration, and he continued as such in the George H. W. Bush administration.

He also rose through the uniformed ranks of the USPHS Commissioned Corps (identical to those of the other sea services) and received a promotion to each rank from ensign to rear admiral in only nine years.

Not only was he one of the nation’s leading public health officials, but the young man who at first could not get into medical school had by 1981 also become the highest ranking career Asian-American in the federal government.

“There’s a Garth Brooks song that says some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers,” says Lin. “That detour after attending Seattle Pacific gave me an appreciation for research in the basic sciences, and taught me hands-on the art of strategic planning and problem-solving. I’ve also counseled many other students who were not accepted on their first attempt at medical school.”

For his integrity, faith, and significant contribution to the health and well-being of people around the world, Lin was selected as the 2008 Seattle Pacific University Alumnus of the Year and honored during Homecoming ceremonies on campus January 24–26. His achievements as a senior federal official included helping to create the Federal Office of Women’s Health and the Federal Office of Minority Health; co-founding the Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum, the Asian Pacific Community Health Organization, the Asian Pacific Nurses Association, and the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association; and serving as one of five U.S. officials permitted to maintain U.S. détente with the Soviets in the area of collaborative biomedical research after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Following retirement from federal service, Lin went to work for a pharmaceutical company. A corporate merger led to his second “retirement,” and he has since acted as a private consultant to various health care ventures, and was part of a $10 million initiative by the Gates Foundation, World Bank, and People’s Republic of China Ministry of Health that resulted in the construction of 111 basic health care centers in rural northwest China. Today, the work of The Lin Group LLC includes pharmaceutical approvals, alternative and complementary medicine, and applied technologies in counter-bioterrorism and homeland security.

“In addition to being an incredible ambassador in the strategic areas of scientific advancement and global engagement — two commitments central to Seattle Pacific’s vision — Sam is true to his faith, and his hero is still his dad,” says Doug Taylor, SPU alumni director. “You have to love that!”

That hero is theologian Timothy Lin, 97 and a member of the team that translated the Old Testament for the New American Standard Bible. The former pastor and seminary professor of Hebrew and Old Testament set high standards for his only child, Samuel. “Those were not easy to reach,” says Samuel Lin, “but I strive to achieve his complete faith and trust in God’s will.”

The Lins followed God’s will one fateful day in 1948 when 3-year-old Samuel and his parents embarked on the USS General Meigs from Shanghai and turned their faces toward San Francisco and his father’s one-year sabbatical from the East China Theological Seminary. It was at Seattle Pacific that the senior Lin eventually chose to enroll in graduate studies for one quarter before transferring to a seminary in Delaware. And it was in America that he accepted God’s will when, in 1949, the communist regime closed China to the family’s return. He would stay in the United States to teach and preach.

After attending Bob Jones Academy and graduating as valedictorian, young Samuel Lin entered Seattle Pacific. He recalls the warmth and care he felt from the first day: “Faculty members did not wear their Christianity on their sleeves, but fully lived their beliefs and, by example, encouraged me to do the same.”

He took his 10th year of piano lessons during his freshman year and played for campus events and Seattle-area coffee-houses. He was a lover of classic opera and was the owner of season box seats at the Seattle Opera House, which offered reasonably priced student tickets in support of the then-new facility.

But ironically, once Lin got a taste of country and western music, there was no turning back. It was during his federal career that he first heard the songs of Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris, and was forever hooked. “I found the lyrics weren’t exactly rocket science, but a great escape from the intensity of work,” he says. He developed personal acquaintances with other country artists and expanded his wardrobe to include bolo ties, cowboy boots, and cowboy hats.

Lin lives today in Rockville, Maryland, with Eva, his wife of 33 years, a psychiatric nurse practitioner. They met during his pediatric rotation in medical school and have triplet daughters who are in pursuit of careers in romance and Slavic languages, veterinary surgery, and international trade. One daughter recently discovered an online copy of the passenger manifest for the ship that brought her father and grandparents to America. There, 59 years later, were recorded the names of each member of the Timothy Lin family.

Retired from federal service since 1994 at the rank of rear admiral, Samuel Lin has been described as the “consummate public servant.” U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii credits him with being “responsive to the unique health care needs of our nation’s racial and ethnic populations.” Former Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon underscores Lin’s “personal fortitude” and “ability to initiate new and imaginative solutions to long-standing problems.”

Nice words, and appreciated. But public service for Lin, as in all of life, is first and foremost about being “geared to the times, but anchored to the Rock.” “As children of God, we train and serve to bring his light and his grace to an unknowing world,” Lin says. “We cannot live our lives in holy isolation, but are directed to reach out, touch lives, and encourage others to come into the fold.

—By Clint Kelly []
Photos by Daniel Sheehan and James Kegley, and courtesy of Samuel Lin

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Samuel Lin

For more photos, visit the Photography Gallery.