As Dr. Edward C. Mazique was buried yesterday, you could see his beneficiaries in the throngs of young black doctors who gathered to pay their last respects. Few men have done so much to bring so many into the ranks of this distinguished profession as Dr. Mazique, and the fine cars with MD tags that lined the funeral procession were just one indication that his proteges had done well.
But when all the kind words had been spoken, after all the tears of sadness had dried up, a nagging sensation remained that the good doctor would not be pleased that his town was getting sicker even as the number of doctors had increased.
Dr. Mazique, who died last week at age 76, had been part of a cadre of old-fashioned physicians who heeded social and political callings as well as medical ones.
He made house calls, and on the Friday before Christmas, he played Santa Claus to 104 children at a Parent-Child Care Center. He participated in the struggle to integrate the city's YMCAs and headed the NAACP committee dealing with the desegregation of city schools.
And he was still one of the city's best doctors, while managing one of the biggest caseloads. As Jacqueline Trescott reported in a story about Dr. Mazique in 1981, "While he was breaking barriers, the doctor slept beside terminally ill patients, some of whom could pay only with turkeys and pies."
How, then, in a town where so many doctors have had the privilege of knowing -- if not actually working with -- such a great man, could health care be in such crisis? How could cancer, heart disease, hypertension, drug abuse and AIDS be virtually out of control in the black community?
How could the National Institutes of Health, for example, have been allowed to cut funding for the Sickle Cell Center at Howard University?
How could Washington, D.C., with at least 1,100 black doctors -- more per square mile than most any place on Earth -- have a higher infant mortality rate than Mississippi?
"I wish that more people did have a social conscience in this regard, but it's a question of where your heart is and you can't make people feel it," said Dr. Allyn Lloyd, director of the East of the River Health Center. "A lot of doctors I know go to church and consider themselves Christians. How they can come out of the black experience and then abandon the cause is something I don't think can be justified."
"Some of the black doctors in this day and age have just taken too much for granted," said Dr. Marilyn McPherson-Corder, a pediatrician in private practice in Northwest Washington.
"The ability to show initiative, to be a self-motivator, is not as keen as it was in Dr. Mazique's day. When I look around for my peers in private practice, they just aren't there," McPherson-Corder said.
As it stands, Dr. Mazique's legacy of activism in this city seems to have been picked up by only a few dedicated physicians. Those following in the footsteps of others like Dr. Mazique -- outstanding old-timers such as Dr. Betty Cato, Dr. Stanley Sinkford, Dr. Melvin Jenkins and Dr. LaSalle Leffal -- are few and far between.
Dr. Mazique would have to be disappointed. Here was a man who had been born in the poverty of Natchez, Miss., in 1911 but still managed to break down racial barriers 10 times greater than those existing today. Yet, too many of the new doctors, armed with more education and backed by large professional organizations, appear to have fled in the face of adversity, to have turned their backs on the black community.
This was not the Mazique way. As the funeral program noted, Dr. Mazique was "a man of the people . . . with a quest for equality and health care for all. He was annoyed, not bitter, when there was a lack of sensitivity and funds to meet the needs of children, the aged and the poor."
Dr. Mazique fought hard to make this a healthier community. The survival of his legacy -- as well as an awful lot of people in this city -- demands that more doctors do the same.