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Dianne F.
Democrat CA

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  • Remembering Dr. Carl Everett Drake, Sr.

    by Senator Dianne Feinstein

    Posted on 2013-01-24

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    FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, Dr. Carl Everett Drake, Sr. died peacefully of natural causes at his home in Sacramento Thursday evening. He was 99. Carl Drake was born on August 21, 1913 in Neptune, NJ, the second son of James and Lucy Bingham Drake. Carl was educated in the public schools where he was an outstanding student and even better multisport athlete. His State high school long jump mark of 21' 10'' stood for over 25 years. His talents brought him to the attention of coaches from Morgan State College in Baltimore, MD, the top ranked college football program available to African American players in the 1930s. His combination of size, speed, and ferocity won him a starting spot on the championship football team. At 6' 1'' and 205 pounds--huge at the time--he was a bruising, standout guard, playing both offense and defense. The team went undefeated for his entire career. He was team captain, had the honor of wearing jersey No. 1, and held the team ball in the national championship photos.



    At Morgan he was active in several student organizations, including the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, which he joined in 1933. He began dating an attractive and studious coed who worked as the dean's secretary, even joining the glee club to demonstrate to her his ``softer'' side. Carl and Beatrice Hayes were married in September 1937. They settled in Baltimore, she began work as a social worker, and he, having left school after football a few credits short of graduation, took a job in the post office. Professional football was not available, but his training made him valuable at handling mail sacks. Two children, Carl Jr., 1939, and Beatrice, 1940, followed, along with a chronic back injury that led to a job shift that relied more on his college schooling than his strength.

    Ruled out of active military service due to his back injury, he re- enrolled in school to complete his college degree, and in 1944, at the urging of Bea, applied to medical school. He could not attend the segregated University of Maryland, but under the ``separate but equal'' concept of Jim Crow laws, the State of Maryland instead paid his tuition to attend Meharry Medical College, in Nashville, TN, one of the two medical schools in the county to educate more than the occasional person of color.

    He moved to Nashville to begin study, working an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. graveyard shift as a hospital orderly to save enough money to send for his wife and family, which he was able to do by 1946. He finished Meharry in 1949 and moved to New York City to begin internship at Harlem Hospital. He had wanted to return to Baltimore, but the city hospital there paid interns $15 per month with free room. Harlem paid $50 per month, enough to rent a one bedroom apartment for the family. After internship and a new baby--Michael, 1950--the family moved across the George Washington Bridge to Englewood, NJ. Carl began his life as a working physician with a grueling schedule that consisted of steady employment in the ER at Harlem Hospital, a graveyard shift, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., followed by a junior partnership in a local New York physician's office from 9 to noon, then home to Jersey to sleep, dinner at 6, and then a few private patients seen in a room converted to a makeshift medical office in the house until 9, before returning to work for the 11 p.m. shift in Harlem. When asked later about this level of commitment he replied that he was mainly ``grateful for a chance to actually work.'' This schedule was of course unsustainable, and a fascination with the newly emerging field of psychiatry led him to, at 40, begin training in psychiatry at Graystone State Hospital. During residency he continued his home office practice after dinner to help support a family that had grown to four children with the addition of Barry in 1952. In 1957, after completing residency he looked nationally, and made the bold decision to move to Sacramento to join a newly burgeoning State mental health system. Prior to this, no one in the family had ever been west of Tennessee. Arriving in Sacramento in July 1958, he worked for the State during the day, and as had always been the case set up a small private practice in rented space in the evenings. Financial obligations included supporting a son in college and stiff mortgage payments on a modern house in an upscale, and for the first time integrated, neighborhood.

    In Sacramento Carl and Bea joined a small circle of middle class African Americans who had also moved west to make a new life. A handful of doctors, lawyers, a defense contractor, and a funeral home owner formed a social group anchored by the ``Couples Club,'' which met on Saturdays once a month for a rotating house party. There were also civic activities like the Lions Club, competitive chess, and the NAACP, as well as the local chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc. The names of these pioneers: Colley, Jones, Morris, Morrissey, Nance, Rutland, Stewart, Trent, West, and a few others, are now a part of Sacramento history. In 1967 a reduction in State supported mental health services affected clinics, including the Sacramento branch where Carl was chief of psychiatry. The new Medicare and Medicaid programs made private practice more viable for physicians caring for low income patients. He converted to full time private practice, and the late 1960s and 1970s became a time of relative prosperity. A pool was added to the backyard, and Carl learned, for the first time, to swim. He remained health conscious, and he and Bea were in the pool everyday from May to October until they were both in their 90s.

    With the children finally grown and on their own Carl and Bea travelled--Alaska, Mexico, Hawaii, and Scandinavia were highlights-- entertained friends, and watched their ever expanding cadre of grandchildren and great grandchildren grow. Bea retired in 1975, but Carl kept his active practice going, seeing patients five days a week until he was 90. Bea suffered from mild macular degeneration and progressive Alzheimer's disease, ultimately requiring full time supervision. Carl closed his practice--regretfully--to come home to care for her. He moved from many patients to just one. They continued to play backgammon as long as she could, exercised in the pool, and when that was no longer safe took walks around the courtyard, until Bea passed away in March 2008. They had been married for just over 70 years.

    In the months following Bea's death, Carl, now 94, began a series of home refurbishing projects including a new roof and painting inside and out. His oldest grandson John, a professional house painter, came north to help, and ultimately moved in to help manage the house and yard. In August 2008 Carl renewed his medical license and his driver's license as he put it ``just in case.'' He became active in his fraternity once again. He did a few legal consultations in 2009, and then with John to type reports on the new computer, began seeing patients again, on a regular basis, working for the State of California as he had when he moved to Sacramento in 1958, this time doing disability evaluations. He pulled the office shingle bearing the name ``Carl E. Drake, Sr. MD'' from the garage--the same shingle used at the house in New Jersey 60 years ago--and mounted it near the back door. The kitchen table became his consultation office. He scheduled a light but steady stream of patients, three or four a week. He saw his last patient on December 12, 2012, before taking a break for the holidays. New visits were on the books for January 2013.

    On December 26, all four of his children, along with five grandchildren and two daughters-in-law, visited without fanfare for a traditional post-Christmas gathering. He was in great spirits, holding court, albeit with less energy than usual. On December 27, after a light dinner, he walked into the living room to sit in his favorite easy chair and watch a few bowl games. He dozed off, never to wake again.

    Dr. Carl Drake left this life as he lived it, with great dignity and grace. He came through the Depression, was an All-American athlete, educated himself, raised a family, and was an active working psychiatrist until the very last days of a life that spanned the 20th century and more. He was calm, open, and cheerful, always. His physical stature was imposing, but his gentle steadfastness and serenity were the traits that made him a joy to be with. He never raised his voice; he never needed to. He was universally admired, respected, and loved. He is survived by 4 children, 11 grandchildren, 17 [[Page S279]] great grandchildren, 16 great-great grandchildren, and thousands of patients. He lived to see his 100th Christmas; he leaves the world a better place. ____________________

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