Charles R. Drew

About Our Namesake

Charles R. Drew Portrait

Dr. Charles R. Drew

Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU) is named in honor of the brilliant African-American physician, famous for his pioneering work in blood preservation. The University, in its emphasis on service to the community, draws its inspiration from the life of Drew, whose
short 46 years were full of achievements, learning, and sharing of his knowledge to benefit

Charles R. Drew was born June 3, 1904, in Washington, D.C. He
attended Amherst College in Massachusetts, where his athletic prowess
in track and football earned him the Mossman trophy as the man who contributed the most to athletics for four years. He went on to teach biology and served as coach at Morgan State College in Baltimore
before entering McGill University School of Medicine in Montreal. As a medical student, Drew became an Alpha Omega Alpha Scholar and won the J. Francis Williams Fellowship, given annually to the top five students in his graduating class. He received his MD degree in 1933 and served his first appointment as a faculty instructor in pathology at Howard University from 1935 to 1936. He then became an instructor in surgery and an assistant surgeon at Freedman’s Hospital, a federally operated facility associated with Howard University.

In 1938, Drew was awarded a two-year Rockefeller fellowship in surgery and began postgraduate work, earning his Doctor of Science in Surgery at Columbia University. His doctoral thesis,
“Banked Blood,” was based on an exhaustive study of blood preservation techniques. It was during his research on this topic at Columbia’s Presbyterian Hospital that his ultimate destiny in serving mankind was shaped, as World War II created a vital need for information and procedures on how to preserve blood.

But his accolades continued. The NAACP awarded him the Spingarn Medal in 1944 in recognition of his work on the British and American projects. Virginia State College presented him an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 1945, as did his alma mater Amherst in 1947. Drew returned to Freedman’s Hospital and Howard University, where he served as a surgeon and professor of medicine from 1942 to 1950.

On April 1, 1950, Drew was driving with three colleagues to the annual meeting of the John A. Andrews Association in Tuskegee, Alabama, when he was killed in a one-car accident. The automobile struck the soft shoulder of the road and overturned. Drew was severely injured and rushed to nearby Alamance County General Hospital in Burlington, North Carolina. In the words of his widow, “everything was done in his fight for life” by the medical staff. However, it was too late to save him.

At his untimely death, Drew left behind a devoted wife, Lenore, four children and a legacy of inspirational, unstinting dedication to service for all people. In 1981, the U.S. Postal Service paid tribute to Drew by issuing in his honor, a stamp in the GREAT AMERICANS Series.

One of Drew’s daughters, Sylvia Drew Ivie, currently works at the university that bears her father’s name as Senior Special Assistant to the President and CEO for External Affairs. CDU continues to honor his legacy by working to eliminate health disparities through inclusive and innovative health professions education.