Edith Irby Jones, Pioneering Black Doctor in the South, Dies at 91


“She’d pick people up, and when I learned to drive, she’d say, ‘Pick up so and so,’ ” Ms. Romain said. “She was especially cognizant that the elderly were written off, not honored and often isolated.”

Dr. Jones expanded her work as a staff doctor for several hospitals around Houston; founded Mercy Hospital, a small facility, with several other African-American doctors, and became a part-owner of Park Plaza Hospital.

In 1985, Dr. Jones became the first woman elected president of the National Medical Association, an organization that has represented black physicians since 1895. During her year in office, she and a group of doctors from the N.M.A. treated patients and trained physicians in Haiti. She helped found a clinic named for her in Vaudreuil, in the northern part of the country.

“Calling her a trailblazer underestimates her accomplishments,” Dr. Niva Lubin-Johnson, the N.M.A.’s current president, said. “She chose to work in underserved areas and still did so many other things.”

Edith Mae Irby was born on Dec. 23, 1927, in Mayflower, Ark. The family lived on a farm, where Edith’s father, Robert, was a sharecropper; her mother, Mattie (Buice) Irby, was a domestic worker. When Edith was about 3 years old, a horse her father had been riding was stung by a bee and kicked him in the chest, causing fatal injuries. The family was forced off the land because her father had left a small unpaid debt to the owner.

After moving to Conway, Edith contracted rheumatic fever, which prevented her from attending school for a year and gave her a lifelong heart murmur. She recovered, but witnessed her mother’s anguish at watching Juanita die and Robert nearly succumb to typhoid fever.

“I remember my mother putting her head on the table, weeping unreservedly, particularly when my brother was so very sick,” Dr. Jones said in the oral history interview.

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