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Watkins memorial service to be April 30

Apr. 23, 2015, 2:38 PM

A memorial service celebrating the life of Levi Watkins Jr., M.D., renowned cardiac surgeon, champion of racial equality and diversity, and the first African-American to be admitted to and graduate from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM), will be held Thursday, April 30, at 11 a.m. at Vanderbilt’s Benton Chapel. Dr. Watkins died April 11.

Dr. Watkins blazed the trail for a medical school now nationally recognized for its admission of students underrepresented in medicine.

In 1978, after his surgical internship at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, Dr. Watkins became the hospital’s first African-American chief resident in cardiac surgery. After completing his residency, he joined the full-time faculty in cardiac surgery at Johns Hopkins, where in February 1980 he performed the world’s first implantation of the automatic implantable defibrillator in a patient, and subsequently developed several different techniques for implanting the device. Dr. Watkins also helped develop the cardiac arrhythmia service at Hopkins. He retired in 2013.

The memorial service will be co-officiated by Emilie Townes, Ph.D., D.Min., dean of the Vanderbilt Divinity School, and The Rev. Mark Forrester, University Chaplain and director of Religious Life. Speakers will include Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos, Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of VUSM; Andre Churchwell, M.D., senior associate dean for Diversity Affairs; and John Tarpley, M.D., professor of Surgery and VUSM classmate of Dr. Watkins from the 1970 graduating class.

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