The Hahnemann Alumnus Who Championed Philly’s African-American Community — and Also Treated Martin Luther King Jr.
February 24, 2017
Martin Luther King Jr. being treated by Walter P. Lomax Jr. in his Philadelphia hotel room on Feb. 10, 1968. Photo courtesy Legacy Center Archives, Drexel College of Medicine.
This article is part of the DrexelNow "Faces of Drexel" series honoring Drexel's history as part of the University-wide celebration of the 125th anniversary of Drexel's founding in 1891.
In honor of Black History Month, DrexelNow takes a deeper look at the life and work of one alumnus, Walter P. Lomax Jr., MD, who graduated from Hahnemann Medical College (now Drexel’s College of Medicine) in 1957.
Since graduating from the medical school, Lomax was a compassionate physician who grew a small clinic into six medical centers and a company to provide quality care and treatment to the underserved and the less fortunate. A philanthropist who supported a variety of cultural, educational, health and artistic non-profit organizations, Lomax bought 900 AM-WURD, the only black-owned and –operated radio station in the state and one of the few of its kind across the country.
And yes, he did treat Martin Luther King Jr. for laryngitis in February 1968 when King was in Philadelphia organizing an anti-Vietnam campaign. Lomax visited King in his hotel room just two months before the civil rights icon was assassinated.
Lomax might have spent a night treating Martin Luther King Jr., but he spent his entire life caring for Philly's African-American community, starting when he enrolled as a medical student at Hahnemann Medical College.
The school could trace back its lineage to 1848, when it was founded as the Homeopathic Medical College of Pennsylvania, and graduated its first African-American medical student, Thomas Creigh Imes, MD, in 1884. When Lomax came to campus during the 1950s, it was during a time that saw a great increase in African-American students at Hahnemann that not only later became teachers at their alma mater, but also were heavily involved in civil rights issues of their day — most notably, Lomax.
His entry in the 1957 Medic, Hahnemann’s yearbook, described him as a “top contender for the best dressed Hahnemannian. A real hat man and fine suit wearer make him a standout.” The stylish student, who had graduated from LaSalle College (now LaSalle University), was a member of the Student Institute and “an enthusiast” of the Undergraduate Research Society. He had conducted cardiovascular research during past summers and completed an internship at the Albert Einstein Medical Center.
While at school, Lomax was also a member of the Phi Beta Pi fraternity, one of the oldest and most active of its kind on campus. Started at Hahnemann in 1948, the fraternity was “founded on the principles of brotherhood” and “dedicated to promoting mutual aid and comradeship among members chosen regardless of race, color or creed,” according to its yearbook page.
A year after graduation, Lomax opened his first medical clinic in a South Philly row home at 18th and Wharton streets near where he grew up, and began treating patients. One of the first people he paid a house call on was a sickly white woman who laughed and shut the door in his face as soon as she saw he was black. The move humiliated Lomax — who ended up getting the last laugh anyway.
That small clinic became six medical centers, and then Lomax Health Systems, which contained enterprises like Correctional Healthcare Solutions, established in 1983 to treat inmates in 70 jails in 10 states, and Healthcare Management Alternatives, Inc., which was co-created in 1989 to offer health care to Medicaid recipients in South and West Philly.
Outside of the medical field, Lomax grew his businesses through Lomax Companies, which he chaired to hold four companies like Lomax Real Estate Partners, a real estate investment firm; Prime Image, a video technology company; MyArtist DNA and WURD, purchased in 2003. He served on multiple boards, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, Philly’s African American Chamber of Commerce and LaSalle University. He also formed the Lomax Family Foundation to fund programs related to education, the arts, and health for the African-American community. He was granted an honorary PhD in science from Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University in 2004.
Despite all of his success and opportunities, Lomax never forgot where he came from. In 1994, he purchased land in King William County, Virginia, that used to be home to an 18th-century plantation that had enslaved his great-grandmother (along with hundreds of other men, women and children since 1732). Over the years, he and his family acquired more than 700 acres of the plantation’s original site.
Lomax also didn’t forget his experiences and training at Hahnemann. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he served as the Hahnemann Medical College Alumni Association representative on the school’s board of trustees. A decade later, he established a scholarship fund for African-American students through a $25,000 donation.
Hahnemann lost an extraordinary alum — and the city of Philadelphia and its African-American community lost a major benefactor and hero — when Lomax died after a brief illness at age 81 in 2013.
“He was an historical figure in Philadelphia and a skilled, compassionate doctor who improved the lives and health of many people…. He was well respected by many people for his tireless efforts,” remembered then-Mayor Michael Nutter, who had known Lomax for more than 30 years.
The Lomax Family Foundation gave $100K in 2013 to establish the Elizabeth and Walter P. Lomax Sr. Scholarship Fund, named to honor Walter Lomax Jr.’s parents. The endowed fund benefits high potential, economically disadvantaged students enrolled in Drexel's College of Medicine, such as African-American students in their third or fourth years, who are pursuing a career in primary care and who plan to work in medically underserved communities in Philadelphia. It's just one of the many ways that his legacy continues to create meaningful opportunities and benefit others in the Philadelphia community.