Dr. Edith Irby Jones dies in Houston at age 91

HOUSTON – Dr. Edith Irby Jones died Monday in Houston at the age of 91.

Jones broke racial boundaries when she became the first African American to be accepted as a non-segregated student at the University of Arkansas in 1952.

Portions of this article are credited to the National Library of Medicine's biography on Jones.

Early life

Born in Arkansas on Dec. 23, 1927, Jones was motivated to help others at a young age. Jones' older sister died during a typhoid epidemic in Arkansas.

Her sister's death motivated Jones to become a doctor and help those most in need.

"The children who were able to have medical care would live; I saw the doctor going in and out of their homes. Although it may not be true, I felt that if I had been a physician, or if there had been physicians available, or we had adequate money, that a physician would have come to us," Jones said.

Her sister was seen by a doctor only once because her family could not afford the care.

Her father, a sharecropper, died in a riding accident when she was 8.

From Arkansas to Houston

Jones received her medical degree in 1952.

After a successful career in Arkansas, Jones established a private practice in internal medicine and gerontology in inner-city Houston in 1962.

Nominated as a "Local Legend" by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Jones was the first African-American woman resident at Baylor College of Medicine Affiliated Hospitals in Houston and the first female president of the National Medical Association. She was a charter member of Physicians for Human Rights and the Chief of the medical staff at Riverside General Hospital in Houston.

A co-founder of Houston's Mercy Hospital, Jones also taught and consulted on health care in several countries and established medical clinics in Veracruz, Mexico, and Vaudreuil, Haiti.

"What truly makes Dr. Jones stand out is her deep desire to help the less fortunate. She has founded or collaborated in the creation of numerous medical clinics throughout Latin America," Jackson Lee said.

Working with MLK

While in Arkansas, Jones worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement and was a member of the "Freedom Four" (along with attorneys Floyd Davis, Harold Flowers and Bob Booker), speaking out mostly across the Deep South at churches and private homes to urge people to join the struggle for justice and equality.

The City of Houston honored Jones in 1986 with an Edith Irby Jones Day.

“We give little when we give only our material possessions. It is when we give of ourselves that we truly give. We have the comfort of knowing that our work is not to make a living, but to make a life, not just for ourselves or a select few, but life with its fullness for all, and especially providing the access to health care, which is our special charge," Jones said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner issued the following statement regarding Jones' death:

"Dr. Edith Irby Jones was a trailblazer. She was the first black person to attend and graduate from the University of Arkansas Medical School and the first black woman intern at a Baylor College of Medicine affiliated hospital.

"Despite receiving numerous accolades throughout her life, Dr. Jones practiced medicine with humility. She was gracious, warm, and personable with a knack for making each of her patients feel special. She also treated everyone with respect.

"She insisted on educating the broader community about the importance of maintaining their health and living their best lives.

"Houston will remember Dr. Jones as a pioneer and an icon.

"Her legacy will endure through the many contributions in her medical practice and in the generations of Houstonians whose lives she touched."

Here is a look at some of Jones' career milestones:

  • 1952: Becomes the first African-American Graduate of the University of Arkansas School of Medicine (now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences)
  • 1963: Appointed Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston
  • 1985: Elected first woman president of the National Medical Association
  • 1988: Selected Internist of the year by the American Society of Internal Medicine
  • 1988-1992: Awarded Honorary Doctorates by Missouri Valley College (1988), Mary Holmes College (1989), Lindenwood College (1991) and Knoxville College (1992)
  • 2001: Receives the Oscar E. Edwards Memorial Award for Volunteerism and Community Service, the American College of Physicians, American Society of Internal Medicine
  • 2004: Inducted into Hall of Fame, University of Arkansas School of Medicine, Little Rock
  • 2005: Named a Distinguished Alumna and inducted into the University of Arkansas Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Academy, Fayetteville