Dr. Dazelle Dean Simpson returned to Jackson Memorial Hospital recently in honor of the hospital’s 100th birthday.
She and the hundreds of other centennial attendees were celebrating an institution starkly different from the hospital Simpson arrived at over half a century ago. In 1953, Simpson made headlines as Jackson's first black pediatrician. Indeed, she was the first black board-certified pediatrician in the state of Florida.
The Miami Herald originally wrote up the landmark event in a piece announcing, "First Negro Woman Doctor Pediatrician; Husband's M.D., too.”
Five years later, her husband, Dr. George Simpson, would become the hospital's first black surgeon.
Now, the storied couple sat in the back of the audience at Jackson’s celebration, which commemorated the hospital’s century-long history. They watched Dr. James Hutson Jr., a surgeon and great-grandson of the hospital’s founder, make a call for “any Jackson babies in the audience.” There were many; one of them was 65-year-old Brad Clorie, the first black baby born at Jackson in 1953.
They listened as Henri Ford, the new dean of the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, credit Jackson’s Ryder Trauma Center with saving his sister's life after she was airlifted from Haiti with a burn that covered 35 percent of her body. Ford, 59, a Haitian-born pediatric surgeon who graduated from Harvard Medical School, began as dean on June 1. (He had been senior vice president and chief of surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles before coming to UM.)
Simpson said she was pleased to see that the dean of the medical school was a black man, an accomplishment she said would have been unthinkable when she began working at the hospital.
Like most hospitals in the South, Jackson was segregated until the 1960s with separate wards and exam rooms for black patients. The hospital has recently put its history on display at Overtown's Historic Lyric Theatre, 819 NW Second Ave., in an exhibit focusing "on the accomplishments within the African-American community from back in the day," says Lidia Amoretti, a spokeswoman for the hospital. Both Simpsons are recognized in the exhibit.
Among those also a pioneer at Jackson: Dr. James W. Bridges, who was the first black resident at Jackson in 1966, the same year the hospital began to desegregate its patient wards.
Bridges, an obestrician, would go on to practice medicine in Miami for nearly 50 years. He was the first black Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Florida, and first black president of the Dade County Medical Association.
He, like the Simpsons, left a lasting legacy on Jackson and beyond.
After a 40-year career, Dazelle Simpson, who graduated from the top of her class from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, retired from Jackson in 1995. She and her husband practiced for more than 40 years in Overtown and Liberty City.
After the speakers left the stage, nurses and doctors made a beeline for the back, asking to take a photo with the couple that had paved the way a half century ago.