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Dr. Calvin Shirley

Posted By Cheyney A. Sparks, Thursday, October 11, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Dr. Calvin Shirley, early black doctor, left legacy of service

June 25, 2012 | By Robert Nolin, Sun Sentinel

For nearly half a century, he treated patients in a poor black neighborhood, dispensing medicine in return for bartered vegetables, birthing thousands of babies, and battling the disease of racism.

"I could have gone on the other side of town," he once said. "But I'm a poor doctor, and I'm not ashamed of it."
Calvin Hylton Shirley, 91, one of the first black doctors in Broward County, died of natural causes Saturday at Broward Health Medical Center, where he was the first black staff physician in the 1950s.

Dr. Shirley's life spanned the era of segregation to the election of the nation's first black president. Broward's first black ob-gyn, he estimated he helped deliver more than 6,000 babies, operating out of a humble office off Sistrunk Boulevard. In 1996, Fort Lauderdale named the street that runs by his office Dr. Calvin H. Shirley Road.

"If no one's here to take care of people in this part of town, the germs will spread," he said. "So somebody ought to be close by."

Dr. Shirley grew up in Pensacola and graduated from Florida A&M University, where he played trumpet in the school's famed marching band. After serving as a Navy corpsman in the Pacific during World War II, he earned his medical degree from Boston College of Physicians and Surgeons.

In 1947, Dr. Shirley and his wife, Jeannette, a nurse, moved to Fort Lauderdale and he joined the staff of Provident Hospital, a blacks-only facility. Two years later he opened his own office, where patients often traded beans, tomatoes or other goods for treatment.
Along with the three other black doctors in town, Dr. Shirley sued to be permitted on staff at Broward General Hospital, now called Broward Health Medical Center. In the 1960s, he and his wife helped establish a county Health Department branch in the Sistrunk neighborhood. The pair also developed the curriculum for Broward's first school for licensed nurses.

When blacks were excluded from the beach in the '60s, Dr. Shirley led "wade-ins" to integrate the shoreline. He also served as team doctor for Dillard High School, was active in the Elks Lodge, played trumpet at his church and in the Broward College orchestra and dedicated much time to volunteer work.

"Everything was community for dad," said his daughter, Jasmin, an administrator with Broward Health. "We always had to share dad with the community."

Dr. Shirley kept serving patients well into his 70s, retiring in 1998. He then spent time at a beach house in New Smyrna Beach, golfed and enjoyed recreational vehicle travel.
In addition to his daughter Jasmin, of Fort Lauderdale, Dr. Shirley is survived by another daughter, Carmen, of Plantation, a physician; sons Calvin Jr., of Melbourne; John Walbridge, of Fort Lauderdale; and Cedric Hylton, of Plantation; and five grandchildren. His wife predeceased him in 1989.

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