Despite the harsh effects of an 83-year-old body, Cullen W. Banks, one of Alachua County’s most respected and beloved obstetrician-gynecologists is still filled with love, kindness and a great sense of humor.
“He always tells me how as he delivered some of the collegiate quarterbacks, he molded their hands in order for them to throw as well as they did,” says Lakay Banks, his wife, with a laugh.
Dr. Banks, a Gainesville legend who delivered an estimated 4,000 babies during his 47-year career, might best be known for his being the first African-American to have full practicing privileges in Alachua County – first at Alachua General in 1949, and later at North Florida Regional Medical Center, where he was a founding trustee.
Because Banks suffers from dementia, he no longer participates within the medical community, but his influence is still strong and still helping – especially at the UF College of Medicine.
Nearly seven years ago, a scholarship in Banks’ name was established by the Alachua County Medical Society to help future minority physicians accomplish their dreams. The Dr. Cullen W. Banks Scholarship provided a means to honor the beloved physician when he retired in 1996, says Donna Parker, MD90, an assistant dean for minority affairs and assistant professor of pediatrics at the College of Medicine.
“Awards such as the Cullen Banks Scholarship help students focus on their academics instead of worrying about financial problems,” she says.
The scholarship is designed to support fourth and fifth-year medical students, and among the main criteria used to determine recipients is a student’s service to his or her community.
Today, Drs. H. Earl Cotman and Reuben Brigety, the first African-American graduates of the UF College of Medicine in 1971, are leading the way to revive efforts to fund the scholarship named after their friend and mentor.
Brigety describes Banks as both strong and gentle.
“Even though he has the booming voice of James Earl Jones, I have never met so many people who speak so highly of someone, specifically of how kind he is,” Brigety says. “I simply admire him, professionally and on a personal level. He was loved by his patients, colleagues and communities -both African-Americans and whites.”
In 1998, The Gainesville Sun named Banks the community Person of the Year. He served on committees for North Florida Regional Hospital, Alachua General Hospital, District Three Health Planning Council and the District Human Rights Advocacy, just to name a few.
In 1996, Banks was awarded the Certificate of Merit, the highest award given to a doctor in Florida. He was honored by the Gainesville Rotary Club with its “Service Above Self” award, even though he dropped out of the Rotary because he couldn’t attend the weekly luncheons, wrote The Gainesville Sun. “Every time he would try to get ready for the Rotary lunch, he’d look out in the waiting room and see it was full of patients. It just didn’t seem right to leave them and go to lunch,” says LaKay.
“I would bring him lunch during his lunch hour because he would use that time to call his patients and share their lab results,” she says. “He used every minute he had, and he loved it.”
Despite his circumstances today, Banks is as pleasant as he was when Lakay first met him.
“He sings one song all day, every day: “Come by Here my Lord,” she says. “He learned it at church and loves it.”