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Lavizzo, Dr. Blanche Sellers (1925-1984) Essay 5651 : Printer-Friendly Format

Dr. Blanche Sellers Lavizzo was the first African American woman pediatrician in the state of Washington. She arrived in Seattle in July 1956 and began her pediatric practice on E Madison Street and later on E Jefferson Street. She served as first medical director of the Odessa Brown Children's Clinic. The clinic is a program of Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center.

She and her surgeon husband Dr. Philip Lavizzo had left medical practices in New Orleans, Louisiana, in order to pursue their careers in the Northwest.

Until 1970, when the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic opened its doors at 2017 E Spruce and she became its first medical director, Dr. Lavizzo had been in the private practice of pediatrics. She cared for children in her office and made house calls to them at night. Her presence was always a source of comfort to concerned parents.

In her position as medical director of the clinic she became the mainstay of health care for children in the Central Area and it was she who gave the clinic its motto, "Quality care with dignity." "She placed her mark on the way the clinic was run, from the way the staff answered the phone to seeing that the chairs in the waiting room were comfortable," commented a colleague.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 11, 1925, she was a friend and schoolmate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Her father was the owner of one of Atlanta's largest black funeral homes. She graduated from Spelman College in 1946, and from Meharry Medical College in 1950. In 1975, she received a Masters in Public Health from the University of Washington.

Dr. Lavizzo was small in stature and carried herself with great dignity. She had a splendid sense of humor, recognized by those who knew her well. She was an opera lover and an avid duplicate bridge player, a member of the American Bridge Association and the American Contract Bridge League.

An active force in the a black community, she served on the board of the Girls Club of Puget Sound and as president of the Seattle Chapter of Links, Inc., a national black women’s service organization. She contributed her time to many other community organizations including the Seattle Urban League, United Way of King County, and numerous health organizations.

In 1972, Dr. Philip Lavizzo died and Dr. Blanche was left a widow with four children. During that year her closely cropped hair began to turn completely white. In the following years, she balanced her roles as single mother and physician with courage and grace.

She became suddenly ill in July 1984, and was hospitalized at Providence Hospital. She died on August 29, 1984. The Mass of Christian Burial was held at Immaculate Conception Church and interment was at Holyrood Cemetery.

In 1991, a 1,953-acre park formerly known as the Yesler Atlantic Pedestrian Pathway was renamed the Dr. Blanche Lavizzo Park and in 1995 a water-play area in the Edwin T. Pratt Park was named in her honor.

Mary T. Henry, Tribute: Seattle Public Places Named for Black People (Seattle: Statice Press, 1997).

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Special Suite: Seattle Children's Hospital |

Related Topics: Biographies | Health | Firsts | Women's History | Black Americans |

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Dr. Blanche Lavizzo (1925-1984), first medical director, Odessa Brown Clinic
Courtesy Odessa Brown Clinic

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