Dr. Wilburn H. Weddington Sr., a Columbus living legend, turned 90 years young on September 21, 2014. Weddington has humbly served Mount Vernon, OH residents as a primary-care doctor for 34 years. As a part-time faculty physician at Ohio State University in 1975, Weddington helped establish the clinical department and eventually became the first African-American doctor to be promoted to full professor in OSU’s College of Medicine.
Weddington has a long list of accolades to decorate his distinguished career, but he’s always been modest when asked about them. One of his favorite sayings is, “I can only strive to obtain such noble heights.” These are words of wisdom Weddington remembers hearing as a college student in the early 1940s from legendary Morehouse College President Benjamin E. Mays.
Weddington was mentored by scholars such as Mays, in addition to medical pioneers at Howard University’s College of Medicine: Dr. Charles Drew, the inventor of the blood bank, and Dr. William Montague Cobb, the first African American to earn a doctorate in physical anthropology.
However, Weddington will tell you that the foundation of his life was shaped by his parents and maternal grandparents, who raised him in Hiram, Ga., during the South’s Jim Crow era. Born to sharecroppers in 1924, he learned a firm work ethic at an early age. Life on his grandfather’s farm taught him the biblical principle of sowing and reaping, not just in the material sense of a harvest but also in planting seeds of goodwill in others.
Although his family was poor, Weddington watched his grandmother Viola share bread and sugar with nearby white farmers in need. She also was a midwife who delivered their children, often getting up at midnight to answer their calls. The racial barriers in Hiram were not so stringent that blacks and whites could not have cordial interaction, and Weddington got his inspiration to enter the medical field from one of the town’s white doctors, Dr. George Ragsdale.
The Weddingtons did laundry for Ragsdale, and he willingly drove his “shiny red-and-black Buick Roadster through the cotton patches,” as Weddington fondly recalls, to care for Viola whenever she was ill. It was one small gesture from Ragsdale that left an enduring impression on Weddington as a young boy. He got to carry Ragsdale’s black medicine bag. From this simple act of kindness, Weddington became determined that sharecropping would not be his lot in life.
Many years later, when Dr. Weddington established his family practices, the first in Marietta, Ga., in 1949, and the second in Columbus after his discharge from the U.S. Air Force in 1957, the lessons of charity and compassion he learned growing up became the building blocks of his medical philosophy in treating patients.
In many cases, he was a counselor as well as a physician. He firmly believed that providing excellent health care was more “than prescribing the pills or applying the knife.” Most of his patients in Columbus were poor, inner-city residents and uninsured, and Weddington made sure they were aware of services and funding from city and state agencies. He would often reach deep into his pockets to help his elderly patients with their utility bills during the winter months and distribute meals to needy families during the holidays.
His generosity did not stop there. Weddington never turned anyone away who could not pay their medical bills. He lost thousands of dollars over the course of his career doing this, but he believed his principal calling as a doctor was to care for those less fortunate.
Weddington’s life is one of a rich legacy that has blessed many in Columbus. He has exemplified a most genuine form of benevolence, which he attributes to his longevity. “I have tried to do my best as a servant to my patients and to God,” he told me. “I have no great gifts except those the good Lord has given me.”