Amherst Magazine
Dr. J. Clarence Chambers, Jr. '30

Dr. J. Clarence Chambers, Jr., retired general medical superintendent of the New York City hospital system, died November 3, 2006, in Amherst, MA, of respiratory failure.  Born in Baltimore on September 4, 1910, to J. Clarence Chambers, Sr. and Alice Wilson Chambers, Dr. Chambers was salutatorian of the Douglass High School Class of 1926.  That fall he entered Amherst College at a time when students still hauled their own water and firewood to the dormitories.  While at Amherst, he served as the rehearsal pianist for operetta performances of the music department.  Graduating magna cum laude and a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 1930, he was Amherst’s first recipient of a John Woodruff Simpson Fellowship in medicine for study at Columbia Univ. College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Graduating from Columbia in 1934, he interned at Harlem Hospital.  He also found time to study music theory and composition at New York Univ., the Julliard School, and privately with Roy Harris.  His numerous instrumental and vocal compositions were performed here and abroad.  His All American Suite for Two Pianos, performed by renowned dual pianists Jose and Amparo Iturbi, was recorded by RCA Victor.  All American inspired Bloomingdale’s to produce a well-received decorator’s “suite” of rooms that reflected the music.

Dr. Chambers served as admitting physician and night administrator at Harlem Hospital.  In 1941 he was honorably discharged from the Army Medical Corps Reserve as a captain and was appointed deputy medical superintendent.  He was the first African-American to attain such a position in New York.  By 1951, then acting superintendent of three hospitals, he received charge of the James Ewing Cancer Hospital.  In 1955, he was appointed general medical superintendent of the Department of Hospitals.  Before retiring in 1970, he was cofounder and secretary of the New York Blood Center.  In 1980, Dr. Chambers received an honorary doctorate from Amherst.  Despite his many accomplishments, Dr. Chambers lived modestly and never bothered to frame any of his degrees and awards.

Besides music, Dr. Chambers enjoyed electric trains (both real and model) and worldwide travel (the films and videos of which he shared with family on visits home).  In 1991, he moved to Applewood, a retirement community near his beloved Amherst.

Dr. Chambers is survived by a nephew, Osborne B. Dixon, Jr. and his wife, Veronica; a grandniece, Carol Dixon; as well as a cousin, Jewel Chambers (all of Baltimore).  He is also survived by two goddaughters, Paula and Vaar Schjelderup; and a life-long friend, Anne Brown, of Oslo, Norway.

—Osborne Dixon, Jr.

 

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