Charles Drew University’s first “Lifetime Achievement Award winner
For a brief moment, Dr. Arthur W. Fleming, Charles Drew University’s first “Lifetime Achievement Award winner,” searched for the right words to say—something appropriate for the gathering of more than 200 well-wishers who turned out for a reception paying tribute to a long career of excellence.
Dr. Fleming told the audience he was honored to receive the award at this year’s annual convention of the National Medical Association in Las Vegas.
“I humbly accept this Lifetime Achievement Award with the full understanding that it was with the support of so many people who accomplished what we accomplished,” he said.
Dr. Fleming thanked the faculty members he hired over the years, the program graduates who remained dedicated to the mission and the nurses—“my heroes”—who despite overwhelming demands were the first line of defense.
Before accepting the award, Dr. Fleming was praised by former students, colleagues and friends. They said he was a man of passion who nurtured a generation of health professionals to follow and fulfill their dreams.
Arthur Wallace Fleming was born on Oct. 1, 1935 in Johnson City, TN. In high school, he worked for a pharmacist who noticed Fleming’s potential in health care. In the Navy, Fleming served as medic on a ship during the Korean War. Later, he worked at the Detroit Center for Cancer research during the day and attended night school at Wayne State.
In 1965, after graduating with a B.A. in chemistry, Dr. Fleming enrolled in medical school at the University of Michigan. One of only two African Americans in his class, he was elected class president and graduated Cum Laude.
After medical school, he worked at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, training for eight years as a surgeon, rising through the ranks on the staff of the Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery services and eventually becoming the director of the Division of Surgery.
“I became interested in blood research,” he recalled. “And as soon as you become interested in blood research you get to know Charles Drew. I was following on his path.”
In 1983, Dr. Fleming received a phone call from Charles R. Drew University asking him to help a surgery program in South Los Angeles. After 17 years in the US Army, he resigned his post to become chairman of the Dept. of Surgery at Charles Drew University and chief of surgery at the King Drew Medical Center.
For Dr. Fleming, there was something symbolic about this new job. “I realized that I was at the same age that Charles Drew was when he died,” he said.
The new position became the opportunity of a lifetime. Over the years, Dr. Fleming held a number of titles, including trauma director, director of the Surgery Residency Program; director of the combat casualty care training program; co-director of the trauma and critical care fellowship; chairman of the faculty council; associate professor of surgery at UCLA and clinical associate professor of surgery at the Uniformed Services University of Health Services.
“When he chaired the department of surgery, he graduated 93 surgeons, including approximately 60 percent of the African American surgeons trained in the United States during that period,” said Dr. Richard Baker, Dean of the College of Medicine. “That is all part of an impressive legacy.”
As head of the trauma center, Dr. Fleming’s work was so outstanding that the US Army sent soldiers to train under his leadership, Dr. Baker said. “The people who came to train at King saw more patients during their time there than they saw during the Gulf War.”
In presenting the Lifetime Achievement Award, Dr. Baker said that Dr. Fleming had made “significant contributions in the field of health care and community service...”
Baker said the recipient of the award is one “whose work and values have fundamentally advanced the health profession; whose accomplishments have been acknowledged by their peers and the general public; and whose work has stood the test of time.”
Fleming thanked the audience and offered special thanks to his wife of 35 years, Delores Fleming. Then, paraphrasing noted author Maya Angelou, he told the gathering that he may not remember the kind words or those who said them. “But I will remember how you made me feel,” he said. “Thank you.”
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Charles Drew University of Medicine & Science
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CHARLES DREW UNIVERSITY OF MEDICINE AND SCIENCE
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