McKenzie, Taylor: Former Navajo vice president 4-13-07

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Former Navajo Vice President Taylor McKenzie, a distinguished physician and the tribe's first medical officer, died Friday at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, the tribe announced.

McKenzie was 76. His family declined to release any details about the cause of death.

Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. said his thoughts and prayers were with McKenzie's wife, Betty, their nine children and the rest of the family.

``The late Dr. McKenzie made an important and great contribution to the Navajo people and the Navajo Nation through his service as a physician with the Indian Health Service for more than 30 years, as our vice president and as our first medical officer,'' Shirley said.

McKenzie was vice president from 1999 to 2003 and was appointed as the first Navajo medical officer in December 2005. Before entering public office, he had a 30year career as a physician and surgeon with the Public Health Service on the Navajo Nation.

Shirley's office said McKenzie was known throughout the American Indian community as a symbol of success for what a Navajo and other Indians could do.

``We all need to pay homage to his leadership,'' Shirley said. ``Through his contributions, we have grown and succeeded, and our nation has become known as great. The nation and our people will be forever indebted to him. He will be deeply missed.''

Shirley plans to issue a proclamation Monday to have flags on the Navajo Nation flown at halfstaff in honor of McKenzie.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

Former Navajo President Kelsey Begaye, under whom McKenzie served as vice president, said he was deeply saddened by the news. He remembered McKenzie as a good friend and a devoted health advocate.

Begaye said the results of McKenzie's hard work over the years include clinics in Pinon, the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and the groundwork for a future clinic at BodawayGap.

McKenzie graduated from Wheaton College in 1954 and earned his medical degree from Baylor in 1958. He completed his surgery residency at Pontiac General Hospital in Michigan.

In 1964, he became a member of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. He retired in 1995 but continued his medical practice parttime until he ran for vice president in 1998.

While with the Public Health Service, he was chief of surgery at the Tuba City Indian Hospital and at the Shiprock Indian Hospital. He also was a founding member of the Association of American Indian Physicians.