Columbus’ first black surgeon dies at 83
By Lily Gordon and Ben Wright, Ledger-Enquirer
Dr. M. Delmar Edwards, the first African-American to practice surgery in Columbus and one who paved the way for others to follow in his footsteps, died Friday after a long illness in Atlanta. He was 83.
“He was known as the godfather of African-American physicians because he recruited so many African-Americans doctors to Columbus,” said Dr. Sylvester McRae, a longtime friend and colleague. “When Dr. Edwards recruited me in 1985, there were probably less than 10 African-American physicians. Today there are 60 to 75.”
In addition to his work as a surgeon, Edwards was the first African-American to serve on the Columbus Housing Authority board and the second on the Muscogee County School Board.
A native of Arkansas, Edwards moved to Columbus in 1964 and started his practice on the corner of Fourth Avenue, now Veterans Parkway, and Eighth Street. Despite some rejection and skepticism, he eventually led the general surgery section at The Medical Center and served as chairman of the department of surgery.
He later trained to be a surgeon at The Residency Training Program in General Surgery at the Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital under Dr. Seaborn A. Roddenbery and Dr. Abraham B. Conger.
“Dr. Andy Roddenbery and Dr. Abe Conger were impressed with my dad’s skills,” said his son, Christopher, a spine surgeon in Atlanta. “They saw a need in the African-American community in Columbus, especially as related to (tuberculosis).”
When Edwards met the white physicians at the Veterans Administration hospital in Tuskegee, he asked Roddenbery and Conger to mentor him to become a board certified surgeon. The friendship grew and he later received his certification.
“I scrubbed with them. They scrubbed with me,” Edwards said.
Edwards was an inspiration to state Rep. Calvin Smyre.
“He was a remarkable person, always encouraging me and others to excel and do the best you could do in life,” said Smyre, who was in Atlanta late Saturday catching a flight to Europe.
Smyre said that he and Edwards served on the Morehouse School of Medicine board in the early 1980s. Smyre still serves on the board.
“We all cherish the moments we had with him,” he said.
Edwards was the primary physician for Smyre for more than 20 years after he graduated from Fort Valley State College in 1970. “I used to sit in his back office and talk politics and called on him all the time,” Smyre said. “He was not a political person.”
The Columbus surgeon was the godfather to Saundra Hunter, whose father, Rannie Lewis, and mother, Ruth, were close friends with Edwards’ family. Hunter is the director of Metra Transit System for the Columbus Consolidated Government and married to Councilor Julius Hunter, an attorney.
“When I had my Sweet 16 party, he walked me in,” she said. “When I got married, he did a celebration with Julius.”
Julius Hunter, a native of Columbus, Ohio, said he met Edwards in 1970 while he was attending Morehouse. He would visit Saundra, a Spelman student, on weekends in Columbus.