You could probably count on one hand the number of individuals who have had the impact that the late Dr. Calvin Hyton Shirley has had on this community. He practiced medicine in Broward County for 54 years, during which time he is credited with delivering over 6,000 babies. Dr. Shirley succumbed of natural causes last Saturday, at Broward Health Medical Center. He was 91- years-old.
Dr. Shirley’s name is among a short list of Black medical pioneers who practiced in Broward County during those early years when the Jim Crow days of segregation were the law of the land. That short list also includes Dr. James Sistrunk and Dr. Von D. Mizell. These African American pioneers blazed the trail in medicine which broke down racial barriers and opened up the doors of opportunity for other African Americans in the medical profession.
Although Dr. Shirley spent the majority of his life meeting the medical needs of Fort Lauderdale’s African American community, he was deeply devoted to his family.
His youngest daughter Carmen followed in her father’s footsteps entering into the medical profession. She began practicing family medicine in 1993.
“My father always led by example. All the things in life he wanted us as children to learn whether it be compassion or resilience or any of those characteristics that he wanted us to eventually exude as an adult he taught us by using himself as an example. He is my hero. I am the person that I am because he was my first teacher. Before there was medical school he was grooming me to be the next doctor in the family. But he was that way with all of us. He always taught us to put God first, then family and community.”
Dr. Calvin Hyton Shirley was the oldest of four sons born to the late Reverend and Mrs. Edwin S. Shirley of Jamaica, West Indies. Graduating from Booker T. Washington High School at the age of sixteen in Pensacola, Florida, Dr. Shirley matriculated to Florida A & M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, Florida where he obtained his pre-medical education majoring in Biology and a double minor in Chemistry and Education. During these undergraduate years, he played trumpet in the College Marching Band, Symphonic, Jazz and Dance Orchestras. This afforded him a full music scholarship which helped to pay his tuition and living expenses.
Drafted into the United States Navy after the completion of his college career and during World War II, Dr. Shirley served his country as a Hospital Corpsman in the Asiatic Pacific Theater of War. Following an Honorable Discharge from the Navy, Dr. Shirley enrolled in the Boston College of Physicians & Surgeons in Boston, Massachusetts graduating Summa Cum Laude. Finishing his Internship and Residency in Obstetrics & Gynecology at Boston City Hospital, he returned to Florida in 1949 to commence his medical practice.
He joined the three medical doctors already established in Fort Lauderdale at the Old Provident Hospital and became a Staff Physician there delivering a career total of over six thousand newborn infants.
Pioneering as a Medical Professional, Dr. Shirley has accomplished many firsts during his practice; and along with Jeanette E. Shirley, his late wife and herself a BS degreed Registered Nurse, implemented the first curriculum and operations for Broward County Licensed Practical Nurse Training Program. He later became the county’s first Medical Advisor to the Sickle Cell Foundation.
Dr. Gordon Merritt first met Dr. Shirley back when he came to Fort Lauderdale to practice dentistry in 1963. They met at a meeting of the Medical, Dental, & Pharmacological Association which was held at Dr. Shirley’s medical office. Not only were they close friends but both were members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. Both men shared a deep respect for one another and spent their entire careers practicing medicine and dentistry in Broward County’s African American community for over 50 years.
“Not only was Dr. Shirley a patient of mine but I was a patient of his also. He was one of the stalwarts in Fort Lauderdale as far as medicine was concerned. He was always very kind and cordial to everyone he met. I really enjoyed the comradery that we shared together over the years. We always had an enjoyable time together. I just spoke with him two weeks ago. He invited me to come up to his home in central Florida. He was a pioneer in this community. I’ve never known anyone to speak a negative word about him during the entire time that I have known him. The community is going to be at a loss for a person of that caliber. He had the community and I mean our community at heart. ”He was one of those who was vested in our community.”
“Dr. Shirley was always the voice of reason and always very calm,” added fellow Kappa Arthur Kennedy.
Frank Nask, CEO and President of Broward Health re-leased the following statement regarding the passing of Dr. Shirley.
“Dr. Calvin Shirley spent decades helping his patients and transforming healthcare in Broward County. He was an amazing man who not only brought thousands of lives into this world but worked to change the world, into which they were born. My interactions with him were limited, but I’ve come to understand his character and commitment through his daughter Jasmin Shirley, our vice president of community health services. A dedication to healing and public service are his legacy and those qualities continue in his children.”
He was the first and only Black physician who in 1985 received the coveted Heideman Memorial Doctor of the Year Award. This award is sponsored by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Caducean Society – an organ of the Broward County Medial Association. Dr. Shirley is also the first Black physician to serve on the Executive Board of the Florida State Health Planning Council. He is the lone survivor of the first four Black physicians admitted to the staff of then Broward General Hospital (now known as Broward Health Broward General Medical Center), opening its closed doors to physicians of color, which paved the way for acceptance of all future Black physicians. It took many court battles to win this privilege.
He was instrumental in getting Fort Lauderdale’s County Health Department building erected in a predominately Black community, thereby affording more accessibility to available county health facilities and public health services. This facility, Northwest Health Center, originally housed the county’s first AIDS Care & Treatment Center developed and directed initially by his daughter Jasmin Shirley and with whom he shared his expertise during that time.
George Burrows ,Sr. began operating Burrow’s Electric during the late 1940’s and was a longtime neighbor of Dr. Shirley. The Burrows family lived right across the street from him in their Black middle-class neighborhood in Fort Lauder-dale. Their children grew up together and their family’s shared many birthdays, holidays, and special occasions together.
“My family and our community have suffered a great loss, but I thank God for the life of such a good man and dedicated community servant. I thank God also for the many fond memories He has allowed me to make over the past 60+ years with my dear friend Doc. The corner of Northwest Fourth Street and 16th Avenue will never be the same,” said Burrows.
Nationally, Dr. Shirley served 15 years as the Grand Clinical Director and Assistant Grand Medical Director of the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World. This service is rendered during their annual Grand Lodge Conventions held in various large cities throughout the United States.
Among his honors and awards are the Broward County Historical Commission Award; the Southern Provencial Achievement Award presented to him by his brothers of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity; and a plaque of “Merit and Appreciation” from Florida’s former State Governor, Reubin Askew, for having provided “Valuable and Distinguished Services” to the State of Florida.
Having asserted himself in many ways, Dr. Shirley is listed in Who’s Who among Black Americans; Who’s Who among International Intellectuals; Personalities of the South, and the City of Fort Lauderdale has honored him with the name of Northwest 22nd Road changed to “Dr. Calvin H. Shirley Road.” He built his own office there and retired from that location in 2004.
Other community accomplishments include his being the Founding Polemarch (President) of the Fort Lauderdale Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. He is a 32nd Degree Mason; a Shriner of Kazah Temple #149, Miami, Florida; a Brother of the Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity of Alpha Rho Boule. He holds membership in the Broward County Recreational Vehicular Campers Club; and as an avid golfer, he held membership in the Palm View Golf Association. He has been a member of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church over the past 63 years serving in its choir as its trumpet accompanist.
He is the proud father of three sons: Calvin, Jr., John Walbridge, and Cedric Hyton; two daughters, Jasmin and Carmen (also a physician); and the grandfather of five; Calena and Joseph Shirley, and Jenaye, Jasmine and Kelsey Mack.
The wake will be held on Friday, June 29, 2012 from 5 to 9 p.m. at Dillard High School Center for the Performing Arts Auditorium, 2501 N.W. 11 St., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Funeral Service will be held on Saturday, June 30, 2012 from 10 a.m., to 12 p.m. at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 1750 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Interment: Sunset Memorial Gardens, 3201 N.W. 19 St., Fort Lauderdale.
The repast will be held at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church Parish Hall, 318 N.W. Sixth Ave., Fort Lauderdale.