Dr. Edward P. Melia, a pediatrician who helped launch major statewide programs to improve the health and welfare of mothers, infants and children, died Dec. 23, his family said. He was 73.
Dr. Melia accidentally drowned while snorkeling in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, said his wife, Elaine. He probably had "a stroke or heart attack" that caused him to drown, said his wife, a physician who was snorkeling with him when he died.
Dr. Melia gave up practicing medicine in the 1970s to shape public policy as a top administrator at the California Department of Health Services. He pioneered programs to improve access and quality of health care for underserved families, especially pregnant women and young children.
He was instrumental in developing and running the Child Health and Disability Prevention program, which provides basic screening, treatment and prevention of diseases in low-income children. He helped set up the Women, Infants and Children health and nutrition program as well as an early program to prevent teenage pregnancy.
He traveled to many counties to train local health professionals in ways to reach out and help communities. He drummed up support among pediatricians and lobbied Capitol lawmakers to fund assistance programs.
"Ed was a pioneer in California's maternal and child health care movement," said Sharrell Blakeley, who founded the state's Office of Child Abuse Prevention. "People talked about pregnancy and child health, but very few made it happen."
Dr. Melia retired in 1995 but returned to public service as a top aide to California Secretary of Health and Human Services chief Grantland Johnson. He worked with director Rob Reiner to develop an operating plan for the California First 5 Commission, which provides education, health and child-care services for children through age 5.
"Children and health policy were Ed's passions," Johnson said. "He believed that science and technology were very important, but they were just tools that had to be guided by the right values to improve quality of life for everyday people, especially children."
Born in 1939 in Boston, Edward Patrick Melia graduated from Boston College and earned a medical degree from Boston University. He earned a master of public health degree from UC Berkeley.
His interest in improving care for underserved groups began with his Coast Guard service as a young doctor in the Indian Health Service. At the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, he grew angry at the lack of staff and equipment to treat Sioux children at a pediatric hospital
"He was very frustrated that these people were getting such terrible health care and were being neglected so much," his wife said.
A Sacramento resident, Dr. Melia raised two sons with his wife of 40 years, a retired Kaiser Permanente internist. An avid tango dancer, he also enjoyed snorkeling and cycling, attending ballet and theater, and cooking gourmet meals for family and friends.
"He had a gift for bringing diverse people together in interesting conversations," Blakeley said. "He had an exuberance for life."
Edward P. Melia
Born: Oct. 7, 1939
Died: Dec. 23, 2012
Survived by: Wife, Elaine Silver Melia of Sacramento; sons, Andrew of San Diego, and Charles of Sacramento; sisters, Patricia Cellucci, Barbara Banks and Mary Lou Beaton, all of Boston; and two grandsons
Remembrances: In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Loaves & Fishes or the Sacramento Ballet.