In July 1956, Dr. Blanche Sellers Lavizzo made history by becoming the first Black woman pediatrician in the state of Washington. Today is also Dr. Lavizzo’s birthday.
BBorn in 1925 in Atlanta, Georgia, Blanche Sellers’ father was the owner of one the city’s largest funeral homes. Lavizzo graduated from Spelman College in 1946 and Meharry Medical College in 1950. She was a friend and classmate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as well. Her husband, surgeon Dr. Phillip Lavizzo, practiced in New Orleans, Louisiana for some years, then traveled to the Pacific Northwest for more opportunities.
Dr. Lavizzo worked in private practice before joining the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic in 1970, becoming its first medical director. Dr. Lavizzo’s bedside manner, meticulous attention to detail and her gentle care of her young patients across Seattle’s Central Area became widely known. She is credited with creating the clinic’s motto, “Quality Care With Dignity.”
Dr. Lavizzo was also a notable fixture in Seattle’s Black community.
In 1972, Dr. Lavizzo’s husband died making her the head of household for their family of four. She worked for some years after but became ill in the mid-80’s, passing away in August 1984. In Seattle, a wooded park and a water play area bears her name
Her step-daughter, Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, served as the President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation from 2003 to 2017. Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey was the foundation’s first woman and Black person to serve at those positions. She is currently the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation PIK Professor of Health Policy and Health Equity at the University of Pennsylvania.
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