COCONUT GROVE – Dazelle Dean and George Simpson have a big night out on Friday.
Upward of 300 people are expected to attend a gala in honor of the two retired physicians who demolished so many racial “never befores” that their accomplishments are peppered with numerous “firsts” in Miami-Dade County and the state of Florida.
The glue that helped fix the Simpsons into their pioneering role is Meharry Medical College, the school where they met while studying medicine. It is the Miami chapter of the Meharry Alumni National Association Inc. that will host a “Celebration of Legacy” honoring the Simpsons Friday in Miami.
While recognizing the Simpsons’ many contributions, the evening of dinner and dancing is intended mainly to raise money to fund an endowed scholarship in Dazelle Simpson’s name at Meharry. She graduated with high honors, was alumnus of the year twice and completed her residency at Hubbard Hospital at the college. They both graduated in 1950.
Meharry President Wayne Riley is expected to attend.
Located in Nashville, Tenn., Meharry is one of the nation’s oldest private historically black health sciences schools and one of only five schools available for the Simpsons to attend in the segregated late 1940s.
“We appreciate the honor,” said George Simpson. “We want to do anything we can to increase the number of minority physicians.”
George Simpson retired from private practice in 1990, after serving Miami-Dade for 32 years, but continued to work with the department of Family Medicine at the University of Miami and Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Dazelle Simpson, the granddaughter of Miami pioneer E.W.F. Stirrup, practiced for 42 years, from 1953 to 1995.
George Simpson recalls that his wife’s retirement gala hosted by Meharry in 1995 raised about $50,000.
“We will exceed that this time, I am sure,” he said.
Those proceeds have been providing scholarships to students. Last year, four scholarship recipients came from Florida, according to Carol Byrd, who serves on the gala planning committee.
“I am so impressed by the Simpsons,” Bryd said. “Even though they are retired, they still do so much for the community, serving on boards, housing. We still have tickets available to the gala, so call if you want to come.”
The gala will need lots of donors and sponsors if the proceeds will take even one student through medical school today when the cost to become a physician can be daunting. To attend Meharry for four years, a student could spend more than $200,000, according to Meharry’s tuition and fees schedule for 2012-2013.
Still, minorities are needed in medicine as the diversifying of America continues.
According to the study Diversity in the Physician Workforce: 2010 Facts and Figures conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges, U.S.-educated black doctors make up 6.3 percent of all physicians. Asian doctors pooled the largest group of minority physicians at 12.8 percent. The study said minority doctors are more likely to practice in remote areas and that many of the chronic diseases disproportionally affect minorities, so physicians are needed to serve these communities.
George Simpson said this is why he and his wife go into the community and speak to students at high schools about vigorously pursuing a career in medicine.
“I encourage students to go into physical or chemical or organic, social, economic sciences and medicine,” he said.
When it comes to surgery and pediatrics in Miami-Dade, many firsts are attached to the Simpsons. George Simpson is the first board-certified black surgeon to operate at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Coconut Grove activist Thelma Gibson, president-emeritus and founder of the Thelma Gibson Health Initiative and a Simpson family friend, recalls applying for a nursing job at Jackson and being turned down because of the color of her skin. She attended Meharry for her six-month surgery program in 1947, she said.
“And then I lived to see Dr. Simpson perform the first surgery by a black physician at Jackson,” Gibson said. “It was a big deal.”
Before George Simpson paved the way for blacks to be operated on at Jackson, African Americans were treated at the now defunct black-owned Christian Hospital, which opened in 1913 in Brownsville and later moved to Liberty City. He served as chairman of the board in the 1980s.
Gibson remembers when Dazelle Simpson returned to Coconut Grove and opened a private practice.
“All the children in the neighborhood used to go to her,” said Gibson, who is honorary chairwoman of the upcoming gala. Dazelle Simpson is the first board-certified black pediatrician in Florida.
“My interest in medicine started when I was very young and my grandmother was sick,” she said.
“I wanted to cure her. When I told my grandfather, he said, ‘That’s fine. You will be independent and you don’t have to be in the white community to be independent.’ I continued to do that, and I did.”
As the two told their stories, they sounded like college sweethearts, even after 65 years together, three children, two grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Dazelle Simpson laughed softly as she recalled stories that spanned more than six decades. Her husband listened intently, careful not to interrupt as she spoke, yet adding details as if on cue.
He is from New York and she’s a Floridian. The two may not have met had it not been for Meharry Medical College. The gala is another way for them to keep on giving.
“We hope some of the scholarships will go to some from Miami and the state of Florida,” said Dr. Dazelle Simpson. “We are happy to lend our name to this event, if it will help.”