Dr. Kenneth Forde, Surgeon Who Fostered Cancer Screening, Dies at 85

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Dr. Forde had.

“Race,” his great-grandmother had taught him, “is something you run — and win.”

He had blamed his skin color, though, for two humiliating memories: While attending college and moonlighting as an orderly, a surgeon summarily ordered him out of the operating room; and when, as a fourth-year medical student, he showed up to apply for an internship at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan (now Mount Sinai St. Luke’s), he was told dismissively not to bother, because no black had been recruited to the house staff before.

“I learned early on that you have to know how not to accept denial of privilege, or to get caught up in confrontation or blame,” Dr. Forde said, “but find a way to get around it and overcome it.”

Kenneth Avril Forde was born on July 6, 1933, in Manhattan to Kenneth and Aileen (Greene) Forde, immigrants from Barbados.

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He was sent to live with an aunt in Barbados, then a British colony, for his primary and secondary education, which included memorizing much of Shakespeare. He considered becoming an Episcopal priest, but gravitated toward medicine instead. Heeding Duncan’s demand in “Macbeth,” he said — “So well thy words become thee as thy wounds;/ They smack of honor both. Go get him surgeons” — he decided to specialize in surgery.

He had hoped to attend Oxford or Cambridge in England, he said, but his parents couldn’t afford the tuition. Returning to Manhattan, he earned a bachelor of science degree from City College of New York, where he worked part-time as a teaching assistant in biology. A family friend encouraged him, as a black man, to pursue a more level career path in education rather than in medicine.

But he persevered and graduated in 1959 from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he was the only black student in his class. He interned at Bellevue and Presbyterian hospitals and served as an Army surgeon in West Germany.



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