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Epilogue | Dr. Yvonne Cummings

Yvonne Cummings was kind, thoughtful as physician, patient, writer

TAMPA — Little Yvonne Cummings didn't call for help when her sister fell and split her knee open. She insisted on trying to sew it up herself.

Why wouldn't she?

She was sharp. Once, she found her Christmas present — a bicycle — and built it from the ground up. She rode it, disassembled it and wrapped it again before her parents knew.

She read constantly and earned straight A's. And from age 4, she dreamed of medical school.

Her family, African-American farmers and academics who excelled despite the odds during a polarizing era, didn't flinch at her goals.

"One of the phrases our family said was, 'In order to succeed in a white world, you have to be twice as smart and work twice as hard to get half as far,' " said her cousin, Navita Cummings James, a University of South Florida professor.

She faced roadblocks. When she attempted to apply to medical school at Ohio State University, an administrator discouraged her, her family said — if they let her into the program, it would steal a seat from men who might otherwise be shipped to Vietnam.

So she applied to historically black Howard University. She thrived, even bringing her visiting cousin to class hoping to convince her to major in biology.

Soon enough, she became Dr. Cummings.

The awards and commendations came fast. Her specialty was nephrology, but she was lauded for her internal medicine and pediatric skills. In 1978, she became an associate professor at USF's College of Medicine.

"I never met anybody who wasn't fond of her," said her friend and former USF colleague, Dana Shires. "She was a very warm, sympathetic figure, and very motherly. She was always kind and straightforward, and I never saw her lose her temper with anybody."

The human mind intrigued her. As a nephrologist, she often sat hours with kidney dialysis patients who opened up to her.

"One of the things she told me was that the psychiatric aspect of medicine is like an overlay of all the other parts," said her brother, Herndon Cummings. "You're dealing with the mental aspect of the healing so often."

In 1986, she began a residency in psychiatry. For 12 years, she operated a private practice until 2000, when she retired in the face of her own challenge.

Dr. Cummings, who lived in South Tampa with her husband and his children, battled diabetes and an autoimmune disorder called dermatomyositis. She told her family that keeping herself healthy was a full-time job.

She devoted herself to her faith and attended St. James House of Prayer in Tampa. With her newfound perspective as a patient, she thought of writing a book about how bedside manner can affect healing. That, she thought, or maybe a horror novel.

As the end neared, her cousin searched Dr. Cummings' room for anything that might spell out funeral wishes. She found much more — journals dating back to 1999 filled with reflections.

Dr. Cummings wrote about how family outings were hard, but worth the trouble. She wrote about her faith. She wrote about life and death and the space between.

She wrote about perseverance: "Keep on loving, keep on praying, keep on writing and creating, keeping on praising God."

Dr. Cummings died Dec. 26. She was 61.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

>>Biography

Dr. Yvonne Cummings

Born: Oct. 2, 1947.

Died: Dec. 26, 2008.

Survivors: husband, Robert Colbert; stepchildren, Rhonda Colbert, Nancy Baez and her husband, Henry, Robin Blaylock and her husband, Fred, Roderick Colbert; grandchildren, Lauren and Jordyn Blaylock; mother, Sarah Julia Armstrong Cummings; siblings, Herndon Cummings and his wife, Andrea, Rosalind Cummings Wilson and her husband, Charles; many nephews, nieces, cousins and other relatives.

Yvonne Cummings was kind, thoughtful as physician, patient, writer 01/03/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 3, 2009 9:03pm]
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