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Walker, Matthew(1906–1978) - Physician, surgeon, Chronology, Final Years and Legacy

meharry medical university surgery

Matthew Walker rose from humble beginnings to become an internationally recognized pioneer in medicine and surgery. He was also a teacher of doctors and surgeons, a medical college and health care administrator, and an advocate for community-based healthcare to poor, disadvantaged, and underserved populations. His varied achievements affected areas far beyond medicine and healthcare, shaping community development in urban and rural areas of the southern United States and providing models for services to communities in underdeveloped nations.

Matthew Walker was born on December 7, 1906 in the small community of Waterproof, Louisiana, bordering the Mississippi River in the northeastern part of the state. His father, Phillip Walker, was a Pullman porter, and his mother, Rosa Ware Walker, worked as a domestic. The family moved to New Orleans during Matthew’s early childhood years, where he received his early educational training in the city’s grammar schools.

Walker continued his studies at Gilbert Academy, where he completed high school in 1925. Remaining in the city he attended New Orleans University, where he received his B.A. with honors in 1929. The following year the university merged with Straight College to form Dillard University, making Walker a part of its last graduating class.

New Orleans University had discontinued its medical college in 1911, but it continued to operate the Flint-Goodridge Hospital and nursing school after the merger which created Dillard. Walker was forced to consider other options in order to study for a medical degree, which were limited due to segregation, finances, and other factors, including the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Two historically black colleges/universities (HBCUs) were the primary locations for blacks seeking medical training in the 1930s: Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, and Howard University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. Walker chose to attend Meharry, a decision which would not only change his life, but also greatly affect the future of the institution.

Walker completed his M.D. with high honors from Meharry in 1934, then he was a resident in surgery and gynecology at the college’s George W. Hubbard Hospital from 1935 to 1938 after receiving diplomate status from the National Board of Medical Examiners. His abilities were such that he almost immediately went from being a student to a faculty member, serving as an instructor in anatomy, surgery, gynecology, orthopedics, anesthesia, and EENT (eye, ear, nose, and throat) during the same period.

Despite his scientific background, Walker was a member of the Methodist church, which was another important influence in his life. Both New Orleans University and Meharry were HBCUs that had been supported by the church, and Walker was active in the fellowship at Clark Memorial (United) Methodist Church from his student days at Meharry. He served the church in many capacities and, years later, would become chairman of the church board of trustees. Walker was also known to ask for God’s guidance before performing surgery and acknowledged the importance of prayer and faith in the healing process.

Even though he progressed through his medical training in Tennessee at a rapid pace, Walker still found time to return to Louisiana where he married the former Alice Johnson in her hometown of Baldwin, St. Mary Parish, on August 5, 1937. Children soon followed: Charlotte Rose (August 25, 1938), Maxine June (April 2, 1940), Matthew Jr. (June 1,1941), and Daniel Phillip (August 17, 1942). Charlotte was born in Baldwin, while the other three children were born in Nashville at Hubbard Hospital on the Meharry campus.

During 1938 and 1939, Walker left Meharry to become a General Education Board fellow in surgery at Howard, then he returned to become an instructor in physiology and pathology until 1941. By 1942 he had resumed teaching in the areas of surgery and gynecology and was promoted to the rank of associate professor. In 1944 Walker was promoted to full professor and acting chair of the Meharry surgery department. He was named permanent chairman the following year.



Born in Waterproof, Louisiana on December 7


Receives B.A. from New Orleans University


Receives M.D. from Meharry Medical College


Joins teaching faculty at Meharry


Marries Alice Johnson in Baldwin, Louisiana on August 5


Becomes professor and chair of Meharry surgery department


Launches rural health initiative in Mound Bayou, Mississippi


Becomes assistant dean of Meharry school of medicine


Serves as president of National Medical Association


Integrates local, state, and national American Medica Association


Secures funding for Mound Bayou and Nashville health centers


Dedicates Nashville health center named for him on March 7


Becomes provost for external affairs at Meharry


Dies in Nashville, Tennessee on July 15

Final Years and Legacy

Matthew Walker died on July 15, 1978 in Nashville. He had lived to see many changes in his profession and professional community, and he had seen changes in his family as well, including five grandchildren. His firstborn daughter, Charlotte Rose, followed him into the medical profession, and one granddaughter, Candace Koney-Laryea, became an anesthesiologist practicing in New Port Richey, Florida. Students he had trained were practicing medicine in leading medical institutions all over the world, as well as following his lead in providing medical and health services to poor and underserved populations.

After more than thirty years of community service, the MWCHC broke ground on a new $5 million structure in 2003, returning to the Jefferson Street area where Walker and others began the center from the storefront location in the 1950s. Charlotte Rose Walker, a speaker for the groundbreaking ceremonies, commented that her father would have been pleased to see the continued progress of the center.

The new MWCHC building was completed during the same year, bringing the center into the new millennium with state of the art technology as an ongoing testament to the vision and commitment of Dr. Walker. He would have also been pleased to know that the former MWCHC location was purchased by Fisk University in 2005 with plans to renovate the building for use as a community leadership institute, yet another tribute to the life and legacy of Matthew Walker.

Walker, Sir John (Ernest) [next] [back] Walker, Hal(c. 1934–2003) - Television journalist, Chronology, Above All Else, a Professional

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