Physician Cullen Banks dies at 88


Dr. Cullen W. Banks in 2004 at an event at Victory Temple Ministries in southeast Gainesville. Banks died Tuesday at 88. (Guardian file photo)

Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 3:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 3:11 p.m.

Longtime Gainesville resident Dr. Cullen W. Banks, a beloved physician and philanthropist, died Tuesday morning in his home following an extended illness. He was 88.

Banks is survived by LaKay Banks, his wife of 54 years, and 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 funeral 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.

Banks returned to Palatka, where he practiced medicine with Dr. James Long. Nine months later, he opened his own medical practice in Gainesville. Banks met his wife, a senior at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, 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 46 years before retiring in 1996. He was the first black physician to have full privileges at the former Alachua General Hospital. He also 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, he 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 Inc., 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," said Bridgewater-Alford. "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 Florida representative, 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 5th Avenue Arts festival, said Banks was her doctor and an avid supporter of the festival.

"He was always supportive of the 5th 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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