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Remembering Dr. Joe Wilber: A Fighter For All

Dr. Joe Wilber, a white Atlanta doctor, was honored at The Carter Center Sunday and in an AJC obit last week for his work with AIDS patients. I, too, remember Joe Wilber.

Dr. Joe Wilber, of Rochester, N.Y., finished Harvard Medical School and spent three years in residency in internal medicine at Grady Hospital before launching his medical career.

Dr. Wilber, 86, who died Sunday, April 3, of Lou Gehrig's Disease was remembered for his trailblazing work in AIDS treatment during the 2000s in a service Sunday at The Carter Center and in a news obituary by Rick Badie in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week.

I remember Dr. Wilber, too, for another trailblazing move right here in Cascade Heights, during the tumultuous Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

After his residency, Dr. Wilber set up practice in Atlanta and took care of anyone, regardless of ability to pay. I met Dr. Wilber at a meeting in the Catholic Church across from the Fulton County Courthouse, downtown.

The Sister in charge of forming Holy Family Hospital (HFH)—more recently, Southwest Community Hospital and, now, the site of The Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS)—in her report stated that only two black doctors had applied for the  staff. Though I am not a Catholic, I stood up in this meeting and refuted her statements concerning black doctors, stating at least sixteen had applied to work on the hospital staff.

Dr. Wilber was at this meeting. He came over to me, introduced himself and arranged to meet with me the next day at a newly-integrated restaurant downtown. At that meeting, I told him the pros and cons regarding our (blacks) effort the join HFH.

Dr. Wilber was the physician to the Catholic Bishop here in Atlanta. After our conversation, the Sister was promoted to a position out of Atlanta and Sister Mary Jacobs was put in her position. HFH now allowed many black doctors to join the staff.  

Dr. Wilber ask me to help form an interracial dialogue group with him (he already had a group he had formed earlier and he asked me to visit their next meeting). I did, they talked the racial problems, and drank tea and ate cookies.

We formed a group of four white and four black couples to discuss race, and problems, and solutions, etc. We met once a month at each member's house, for eight meetings. Of the whites, I recall, there was a bank president, an actress, and a social worker; of the blacks, two dentists and a teacher.  

The first meeting was at my house in my recreation room. I was late due to an emergency call.  When I came in, I found they had found my cocktail bar and were socializing.  (That was the end of the tea and cookies). We really got down to racial problems. We became very close as a group.

After the eight meetings we then formed secondary groups to continue discussions. But we had grown so attached to our discussions and each other that we continued our original group, also.   

We have all come to be the best of friends, until this day. 

Most of us have visited Joe in Jasper, Ga.

Joe Wilber was a great man. We will miss him.

-- L. V. Reese, M.D.

Editor's Note: Dr. Louis Reese is a legendary Cascade-area ophthamologist who had a thriving practice on Auburn Avenue. His old second-floor window office is depicted in a Sweet Auburn mural that is a popular tourists' photo opp. When not reading Cascade Patch, Reese can be found at the Starbucks on Cascade Road beating some young gun in a game of chess.

Janet Tillman Turner April 11, 2011 at 04:18 PM
Dr. Reese, thank you for a great history lesson. I was confused, however. You did not explain to us in the beginning, that Dr. Wilbur was Caucasian!
Janita Poe April 11, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Good point, Janet! I added his race in the dek (sub-head). Thanks!!
bill williams April 11, 2011 at 07:03 PM
I know Dr Reese and not a finer man walks the earth........... Bill Williams, Danbury, CT

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