Born during his mother’s last year in medical school, Luther and his family spent five more years in Gainesville while his father finished his medical degree and Tanner-St. James, MD ’84, and St. James III, MD ’86, completed their family practice residencies. While growing up, Luther was at home in his parents’ health care environment. He spent many hours in physician lounges as a small child, talking with doctors while his parents worked. As a teenager, Luther worked at his parents’ family practice clinic in Daytona Beach, and he seemed destined for a career in medicine.
According to his mother, Luther lost his focus when he went to college at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. He soon failed out of school and returned home.
“I knew I wasn’t living up to the standards my parents set,” Luther said. “I was disappointed in myself, and I needed to turn it around. I said to myself, ‘If I can get out of this hole, my brothers will always know that if I could do it, they could do it, too.’”
Luther went to work for UPS and received emergency medical training to work as an EMT, but when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, he insisted on going back to help rebuild his university. The storm was Luther’s turning point, according to his mother.
The first stop he made once back in New Orleans was to the office of Sister Grace Mary Flickinger, an almost 80-year-old Sister of the Blessed Sacrament and a biology professor. Luther impressed the academic adviser by taking full responsibility for his past mistakes, offering no excuses, she said.
“I knew I was working with a man and not a boy,” said Flickinger, who continues to teach at Xavier, and whose influence has been a guiding force for Luther through his entire education, which is why he brought her to Gainesville to witness his medical school graduation.