Bruce Dixon, former Allegheny County Health Department director, dies at 74

Former Allegheny County health director Bruce Dixon died early this morning at UPMC Presbyterian, according to the county medical examiner's office.

Dr. Dixon, 74, of Forest Hills, was ousted from his position last year at the behest of County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Dr. Dixon had served in the post for 20 years and subsequently filed a lawsuit claiming wrongful termination.

PG archive: A day with Dr. Bruce Dixon

Dr. Bruce Dixon, who died today, was the longest-serving director of the Allegheny County Health Department. In 2009, he spent part of a day with PG photographer Rebecca Droke, which resulted in this video.

The cause of death was a blood infection related to cholecystitis, an inflammation of the gall bladder, according to the medical examiner's office.

Dr. Dixon was fired by the county Board of Health, which acted at the request of Mr. Fitzgerald, in March 2012.

After the vote, board chairman Lee Harrison said Dr. Dixon "has been a phenomenal public servant for the county for 20 years" and also that the board "felt the move was in the best interests of the county."

Mr. Fitzgerald reportedly wasn't happy with how Dr. Dixon handled grading of restaurants, diesel-idling regulations and permits for air pollution, among other issues.

In a statement his office released this morning, Mr. Fitzgerald only hinted at that.

"For over 20 years, Dr. Bruce Dixon was the ultimate public servant, dedicating his life to serving the needs of the residents of Allegheny County through his direction of the Allegheny County Health Department," Mr. Fitzgerald said in the prepared statement. "The time and dedication he committed to the Department during his tenure was extensive. While we differed in how the Health Department should move forward, the service he provided was admired and will not be forgotten soon."

Former Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey, whose county administration was among the many in which Dr. Dixon served, said he was shocked at the news of his friend's death.

"All the time I've known him, I've never known him to be sick. He was always healthy," Mr. Roddey said.

He had lunch with Dr. Dixon several weeks ago "and he was in good spirits, wondering what he was going to do next," Mr. Roddey said. "We had long conversations about that. He was interested in staying in public health, exploring what might be available at the state level."

As for being ousted from the health department director's post, Dr. Dixon took it hard, Mr. Roddey said.

"I think it affected him a lot, a lot more than he would let on," Mr. Roddey said. "He was very distressed by it. He loved that job, he loved the people, he really liked what he did."

Dr. Dixon was hired as the county's top health official in 1992, during the administration of former commissioners Tom Foerster and Pete Flaherty.

A Forest Hills native, he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1960 with a degree in chemistry. After his studies at Pitt's medical school were interrupted by a two-year stint in the Air Force, he graduated in 1965.

After a residency, internship and faculty position at Duke Medical School in North Carolina, he returned to Pitt to teach in 1975.

He became a consultant to the health department in 1979.

"I don't exactly know why I became a doctor," he said shortly after his hiring. "I guess it's because I've always been fascinated with health care since I can remember."

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Jon Schmitz:, 412-263-1868 and on Twitter @pgtraffic. Michael A. Fuoco contributed. First Published February 20, 2013 12:30 PM


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