Remembering Dr. Dazelle Simpson

Drs. Dazelle and George Simpson
Above: Dazelle Simpson, MD, with her husband, George Simpson, MD. Photo courtesy of Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation.

The history of the ABP lives through the work of individual board-certified pediatricians caring for children. On the occasion of Black History Month, R. Rodney Howell, MD, Chair Emeritus of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Miami, shares the story of his friend and colleague, Dazelle Dean Simpson, MD, who died Feb. 9, 2020, at age 95.

I first met Dr. Dazelle Simpson soon after I came to Miami as Chair of Pediatrics at the University of Miami more than 30 years ago. She was the first black person certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in Florida (Certified Oct. 1, 1957). Dr. Simpson was also the first woman and first black member of the University of Miami School of Medicine Admissions Committee. She was the first black President of the Greater Miami Pediatric Society and chaired the Pediatric Section of the National Medical Association from 1975-1977. She served as a member of the Board of Trustees of Meharry Medical School for a decade. These are representative of her many ground-breaking accomplishments and service.

Dazelle was the granddaughter E.W.F. Stirrup Sr., who was born in the Bahamas and immigrated to the Coconut Grove area of Miami in 1888. He worked as a laborer in South Dade’s pineapple fields and was a chauffeur at nearby Vizcaya in Coconut Grove, the legendary estate of industrialist James Deering. 

Mr. Stirrup had a keen business mind, saved his money, bought land, and built hundreds of houses that gave fellow Bahamians the opportunity to own their own home. In addition to his real estate, he owned many businesses and became very wealthy. Dazelle’s father, who owned a pharmacy, died when Dazelle was only 3 months old. Dazelle in grew up in her grandfather Stirrup’s household. While still a child, she told her amazing grandfather she wanted to be a doctor (a remarkable plan for a black girl at that time); he supported her strongly. Family members have carefully restored the Stirrup homestead on Charles Avenue, where Dazelle grew up, (identified with Florida Historic Markers), with plans for it to become a bed-and-breakfast.

When Dazelle returned to Miami after college, medical school, and house staff training, she could have lived anywhere.  She chose to live in the center of the neighborhood where she grew up, bringing along another physician — her husband, George Simpson, MD, who was the first black board-certified surgeon in Florida. Dazelle’s pediatric practice was located in downtown Miami’s Overtown, where she primarily served black children. She was a powerful advocate for children, particularly black children.

Dazelle and I served together as board members of the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation. She was enormously helpful in identifying important community needs that would benefit from grants from the Foundations’ sizable endowment. She was always a powerful advocate for her community, but remained careful and critical in her judgments.

Her funeral was held at the historic Christ Episcopal Church in Coconut Grove, blocks from the Stirrup homestead. Former patients, friends, community leaders, as well as current pediatric housestaff, who had never met Dazelle but knew of her legacy, packed the sanctuary.

We celebrate the long life of a black pediatrician who was in a position to make so many personally rewarding moves, but who remained so true to her roots and served others so well during her long life. All the time, she remained so gentle and caring, but demanding, in her work. She made a big difference.

About the Author

Dr. R. Rodney HowellR. Rodney Howell, MD, FAAP, is professor and Chairman Emeritus of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, where he also is a member of the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics.