DR. WILBUR MICHAEL BYRD, 77, of NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, passed away on February 19, 2021 in Nashville at Ascension St. Thomas Hospital Midtown. Dr. Byrd had been in declining health in recent weeks before entering the hospital in late January 2021.
He was born in Galveston, Texas to Wilbur and Sybil Munchus Byrd on December 26, 1943. He went to high school in Ft. Worth, TX and entered college early at age 14 and graduated from Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA. After graduating from Morehouse, Dr. Byrd earned his M.D. degree at Meharry Medical College in 1968. He was a “Renaissance Man” who loved books, art, architecture, music, trains, travel, photography, theater, and had a generous sense of humor. He was a Board Certified Obstetrician-Gynecologist and health policy expert.
Upon completion of an internship, he served two years as a General Medical Officer in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, serving on active duty in the Vietnam War where he was a Battalion Surgeon and was awarded the Bronze Star medal. He completed his OB-GYN training at Hubbard Hospital of Meharry Medical College, Nashville, TN. He later earned a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree at the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA.
Following a decade of private practice and health policy activity in Fort Worth, Texas, Dr. Byrd’s career turned to full-time academic medicine with appointments at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, Texas; Assistant Chief of OB-Gyn at Metropolitan Nashville General Hospital; Assistant Professorships at Meharry Medical College, SUNY Downstate Medical School in Brooklyn, NY, Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health.
Michael was an inspiring teacher, a skilled and talented physician, and a loving companion and collaborator, with whom I have been fortunate to have as a life partner for several decades,” said Dr. Linda A. Clayton, his wife and co-publisher on groundbreaking research and policymaking on health disparities affecting African Americans, racialized ethnic minority groups, women and other groups. Drs. Bryd and Clayton coined the phrase “Slave Health Deficit,” to pinpoint the origins of public health gaps between Blacks and others, and devised analytical frameworks for examining social determinants of health, generally. Dr. Byrd was a noted consultant and policy advisor for Presidents, medical personnel, health and medical professional associations, and academic units as well as students and lay public across the nation.
“He was a well-traveled, studious man, who used his natural curiosity and focused intelligence to influence trends of health research that are now accepted as foundational for examining health disparity and outcomes that are shaped by racism and other socio-economic conditions,” his wife added. His renaissance approach to life undoubtedly improved conditions for millions who never met him.”
He was involved in early sit-ins and civil rights direct action led by Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organizers who rallied students in Atlanta and across the nation during the 1960s, recalling the energy and excitement that inspired his later work championing civil rights in medicine and professional arenas.
He was a colleague of medical and public health path breakers such as Dr. Louis Sullivan, Dr. Richard Allen Williams, and Dr. David Satcher, a college classmate —reflecting how the “Black Medical Ghetto” produced leaders and health practitioners who transformed the greater society while cultivating excellence under extreme conditions of lack and inequity. “The Black college system provided more experience and knowledge so that I was better prepared to address matters in society and health care than some of the physicians from Ivy League schools whom I met later in life,” he said in a recent interview. “It was my mother who taught me to appreciate the arts and culture—with her librarian background--and it was my father who cultivated my love of sports and competitive excellence,” Dr. Byrd noted. “I learned more, under the direction of my parents and the Black community, than I did when I went to grade school. I guess that was one of the untold benefits of living behind the veil,” reflecting on WEB Du Bois’ paradigm of dual consciousness and Black America.
While at Meharry Medical College, SUNY Downstate Medical School, and Harvard University, Dr. Byrd published and consulted extensively on the African-American health crisis and minority health policy issues. He became an acknowledged medical historian with a health policy focus. He contributed to The Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History and The Oxford Companion of United States History. Dr. Byrd consulted with numerous organizations such as the NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), National Medical Association (NMA), the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Health Brain Trust, The Clinton Health Reform Task Force, the U.S. Congress, the Summit Health Coalition, National Action Network, Black Churches and Black Colleges/University Network, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Institute of Medicine. He was widely published, has received numerous awards, and has served on several national and international committees. He was also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Chi Delta Mu Medical Honor Society, American Public Health Association (APHA), Massachusetts Medical Society, and the American Association for the History of Medicine. He was recipient of numerous awards including an Honorary Doctorate of Education Degree from Wheelock College, Boston Massachusetts.
Dr. Byrd was lead author, with his wife Dr. Linda A. Clayton, of a two-volume book, An American Health Dilemma. Both volumes were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. At the time of his death, Dr. Byrd and Dr. Clayton were writing the second edition and third volume of their book. He was also on the faculty at Meharry Medical College, the Harvard School of Public Health, and a Board Member of the Disparities Solution Center of Massachusetts General Hospital of Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Byrd is survived by his loving and devoted wife, Dr. Linda A. Clayton of Nashville, TN, three sons: Dr. Michael Charles Byrd of Houston, TX, Dr. Miles Eugene Byrd of Tallahassee, FL, and Edward Byrd of Nashville, TN; one Aunt Mrs. Ruth Baker of Ft. Worth, TX, special cousin Thomas Dockins (Cassandra), other paternal and maternal cousins, surrogate sister Reverend Carolyn Corey, surrogate daughter Dr. Kellee White, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, other cousins; Sisters-in-Law: Joan Clayton-Davis (Biars), Reverend Joyce Daye Clayton, Maxine Bass, Doris Clayton Davis, Judy Clayton, Centerethia Clayton, Barbara Richardson, Gladys Smith, Selena Henderson; Brothers-in-Law: Larry Clayton (Joan), Walter Clayton (Alisa), Donald Clayton, Percy Clayton (Florine), Nathaniel Clayton (Katie), Dr. Christy Clayton, Congresswoman Eva Clayton and the Clayton Family; OB Chief/Mentor Dr. Henry Foster, Mentor Dr. Henry Moses, and Meharry Family, Dr. David Satcher, Dr. Dezra White, Dr. Michael Lenoir, Dr. Louis Sullivan, Dr. Richard Allen Williams, Dr. Leonard Weather, Dr. Randall Morgan, Dr. Deborah Prothrowstith, Dr. Patricia Matthews-Juarez, Dr. Camara Jones, Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, Dr. Augustus White, Dr. Cato Laurencin, Dr. Vivian Penn, Dr. Edith Mitchell, Dr. Claudia Baquet, Dr. Dorothy Roberts; special friends Dr. Robert Robinson, Dr. Noma Roberson, Dr. Shiriki Kumanyiki, Dr. Lovell Jones, Professor Vernelia Randal, Dr. Cassandra Simmons, Dr. Ricardo Guthrie, Dr. David Harris, Dr. Joan Reede, Dr. Joseph Betancourt, Aswita Tan-McCrory, Dr. Karen Winkfield, Dr. Yvette Cozier, Dr. Lynn Rosenberg, Dr. Joan Brown Adams, Dr. Ernest Bonner, Dr. Eddie Hoover, Sheila Thorne, B Ruth Perot, Benjamin Chavis, Joanne Hawkesworth, Dr. J. Jacque Carter, Dr. Yvonne Gomez-Carrion, Randall Rucker, Dr. Roderick Mitchell, Dr. Dralves Edwards, Pamela Busby, Ron Almstead, Thomas Hannon, Judge William Huey (Willie Mae), Jackie Jenkins Scott, Dee Dale, Claudette Hunt, Kevin Brennan, Dr. Annette Hanson, Esta Lee Stone, Susan Maguire, Eloise Porterfield, Vincent Sheehan, special friends/caregiver Geraldine Parker, Delores Holland, Shirley Nix Davis, Jacquelin Dennis, Janine Payne, Kerby Robeson, Esq., Dr. Karen Reid-Renner, and a host of other friends and colleagues.
Memorial donations may be made to Meharry Medical College Scholarship Fund for Dr. W. Michael Byrd. The family wishes to extend its gratitude to the Boston Veterans Center, Multicultural Healthcare Marketing Group, LLC, Black Women’s Health Study Group Membership, VA Hospital , Amedisys Home Health Care Services, physicians, staff, and caregivers at Ascension St. Thomas Hospital Midtown.
Public Walk Through will be held Thursday, March 4, 2021 from 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. at Lewis & Wright Funeral Directors. Funeral Service will be held Friday, March 5, 2021 at 4:00 p.m. in the Lewis & Wright Chapel. Burial will be at Hills of Calvary Memorial Park.