Dr. Cullen Banks dead at 88


Dr. Cullen Banks, shown in this Feb. 27, 2004 file photo, has died.

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Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 3:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 3:07 p.m.

Longtime Gainesville physician Cullen W. Banks, the first black doctor to have full privileges at Alachua General Hospital and North Florida Regional Medical Center, died Tuesday morning at his home following an extended illness. He was 88.

Banks is survived by LaKay Banks, his wife of 54 years; their children, Colleen Banks of Virginia Beach, Va.; Dr. Garry Banks of Valparaiso in the Florida Panhandle; Barry Banks and Maritza Banks of Gainesville; and two grandchildren.

The funeral will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Greater Bethel AME Church. Chestnut Funeral Home is in charge of the services.

Banks was born in Temple, Texas, and was one of two children of Cullen and Estelle Banks. His sister, Bessye Madison, preceded him in death. Banks grew up in Palatka and Orlando, where his parents taught school.

He attended undergraduate school at Wilberforce College, now Wilberforce University, in Wilberforce, Ohio, where he studied pre-med. He received his medical degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1948.

Banks returned to Palatka, where he practiced medicine with Dr. James Long. Nine months later, at age 25, he opened his own medical practice in Gainesville in 1949, buying the practice of another family practice physician — Dr. Orien Ayers, one of only three black doctors in Alachua County — who was moving to St. Petersburg because he was not allowed privileges at Alachua General.

Banks was also the first black physician to serve on the Alachua General board of trustees and was the first black member of the admissions committee for the University of Florida College of Medicine. He remained the only black family physician in private practice in Gainesville until about 30 years ago.

Throughout his career, Banks mentored medical students in his private practice. In 1998, the Alachua County Medical Society and the UF College of Medicine established a scholarship fund in Banks' name. The money goes to help qualified minority students pursue medical careers.

Banks met his wife, who was a senior at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee at the time, during a social event at FAMU. Three months later, they eloped.

Colleen Banks reflected on her father's tendency to joke around.

“Every corner of town, at parties and/or engagements, even outside of Gainesville, people would approach our father and say, ‘Dr. Banks, you delivered me.' He would gaze at them gently and say, ‘OK, you turned out pretty good. I need to send you another bill!'

“Aside from his humor, his presence was invaluable in our home,” said Colleen Banks. “Not so much as a physician, but as a husband and father and grandfather. His family was everything to him. Our father was so adored and will truly be missed.”

Banks practiced medicine in Gainesville for 47 years before retiring in 1996. He was a founding trustee of the North Florida Regional Medical Center, where he served as a member emeritus of the hospital's board of trustees.

In 1996, Banks received the Certificate of Merit, the highest state medical honor awarded by the Florida Medical Association. In 1998, he was honored by the Rotary Club of Gainesville and presented with the organization's annual Service Above Self Award. Also in 1998, Banks received the 50-year Alumnus Award from Howard University.

Carrie Mills, director of development at the University of Florida College of Medicine, said the Alachua County Medical Society established the Cullen W. Banks, M.D. Scholarship Fund as a tribute to his influence and achievement.

Mills said the scholarship receives numerous donations from Banks' family, friends and UF alumni.

“The Cullen W. Banks, M.D. Scholarship Fund will last forever,” Mills said, “and impact UF College of Medicine students forever.”

Florida Bridgewater-Alford, president and CEO of the Twenty Pearls Foundation, the charitable arm of the Mu Upsilon Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, said Banks was the inspiration for the foundation's annual golf scramble for his trailblazing history here in the state of Florida.

“We are forever grateful to the entire Banks family for allowing Dr. Banks to serve as our inspiration,” Bridgewater-Alford said. “His indelible spirit, enthusiasm for continuing education for students globally, and his generous support will live beyond his physical presence.

“He was a well-respected and unmatched supporter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and the Twenty Pearls Foundation Inc.,” she continued. “He certainly lived by the notion that there is no more noble occupation in the world than to help someone succeed.”

Cynthia Moore Chestnut, a former Alachua County commissioner and state legislator, called Banks a pioneer. “In a quiet and unobtrusive way,” Chestnut said, “he built bridges for many in medicine and in civil rights.”

Nkwanda Jah, executive director of the Cultural Arts Coalition, which sponsors the annual Fifth Avenue Arts Festival, said Banks was her doctor and an avid supporter of the festival.

“He was always supportive of the Fifth Avenue Arts Festival, especially at the beginning to get it up and running,” Jah said.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made in memory of Banks and directed to support the Cullen W. Banks, M.D. Scholarship at the University of Florida College of Medicine. Make checks payable to the UF Foundation and mail to the University of Florida Foundation Inc., P.O. Box 14425, Gainesville, FL 32604.

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