Admiral William M. Narva
'52, BS in Bio Chemistry
Former Attending Physician, U.S. Congress
Rear Admiral William M. Narva's patient roster reads like the glossary of an American history textbook. As a top Navy Medical Corps officer and, eventually, as the attending physician to the U.S. Congress, Rear Admiral William M. Narva spent nearly 30 years caring for our nation's most prominent government and military leaders. His relationships, both personal and professional include such luminaries as Senator Ted Kennedy, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the legendary Admiral Chester Nimitz and General Colin Powell.
Born in 1927, William Narva grew up on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Although he would later return to complete high school, he dropped out to join the Maritime Services. After spending an unhappy semester at NYU, Admiral Narva acted on the advice of some high school buddies regarding a small college in Hempstead.
"Hofstra was growing fast with the war vets returning, but it was still a small school." He fondly recalls the camaraderie of the tight-knit campus community, the supportive relationships with faculty, and classes in Quonset huts that had sprung up to accommodate the school's post-war growth.
"I knew I wanted to go to medical school, so I decided to pursue a degree in biochemistry. The problem was that the Chemistry Department chair, Professor Lutz, informed me I had scored dead last on the entrance exam. I finally convinced him to let me be a chemistry student for six months, with the agreement that if I didn't impress him in that time, I'd never bother him again." After four years of straight A's, young Bill Narva had certainly impressed Chairman Lutz, and learned an important life lesson that would stay with him throughout his extraordinary career.
When he entered Yale Medical School in 1952, the realities of the military draft were still very much on would-be Dr. Narva's mind, enlisting as a naval officer. He was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He entered active duty in 1955, completed an internship at Bethesda and his residency in dermatology and infectious diseases at the naval hospitals in San Diego and Oakland.
Dr. Narva, then a lieutenant, impressed the chief of medicine at Oakland, Captain George Davis, by voluntarily joining his staff on rounds and easing concerns about lesions that looked worse than they actually were. Four years later, when Davis was named commanding officer of the Naval Hospital at Bethesda, he remembered Narva and offered him the position of chief of dermatology.
Since 1928, the U.S. Navy Medical Corps has attended to the medical needs of Congress and, by extension, most officials in the U.S. government. Less than six weeks after arriving at Bethesda, Lt. Commander William Narva found himself in the White House master bedroom examining President Lyndon Baines Johnson (who he describes as "larger than life, and probably the most intimidating man I've ever met"). It would be the first of many presidential encounters; in fact, Narva went on to consult with every president from Johnson to the senior George Bush before his retirement in 1990.
Over the next 25 years, Narva rose in both rank and renown, earning the promotion to rear admiral in 1982. Narva found himself in the company of many of the top players in Washington's inner circle, whether it was playing tennis with Vice President Spiro Agnew and Senator Charles Percy, or sharing coffee with George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. When the time came to replace Congress' attending physician in 1986, five names were submitted to the Congressional leadership as per protocol, but Admiral William Narva was the immediate and unanimous choice. As the attending physician to the U.S. Congress, Admiral Narva was responsible not only for the health of the entire 535-plus members of the Senate and House of Representatives, but for the nine justices of the Supreme Court as well.
In 1990, early in the first Bush administration, Admiral Narva retired from the Navy but not from medicine, however, and Narva became a highly sought-after consultant, lecturer and adviser at several prominent institutions.
Reflecting on Hofstra's impact on his successful career, Admiral Narva says, "One of the most important things I learned in college was that opportunities will present themselves, but it's up to you to take advantage of them. I took advantage of Hofstra's more intimate campus character and the support of some great faculty members … it helped me build the confidence I needed to achieve success. In many ways, that first big decision - to leave NYU and go to Hofstra - was the greatest decision I ever made."