‘D’ earns an A+
As a physician to the indigent and working poor, Glaister “D” Dawkins knows all too well the struggles faced by those with thin wallets.
The son of a cab driver and retail clerk from the sugar cane fields of Maypen, Jamaica, Dawkins vowed at an early age to remember and help those who might not be as fortunate as he would become.
Patients who know “D,” as he is affectionately referred to at the Miners Community Clinic in Nevada City, see an affable, youthful physician who works with a zeal and verve that belie his 69 years, nearly 50 of which have been spent improving the lives of the sick and infirm.
That’s only half the story for Dawkins, who is being honored Wednesday as the first “Humanitarian of the Year” by the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation for his work with the disadvantaged.
Longtime Alzheimer’s care advocate and volunteer Julie Reaney is being given the foundation’s annual “Volunteer of the Year” award. Both awards are given by the hospital foundation’s board of directors.
It’s hard to pinpoint when Dawkins first developed a penchant for helping his fellow man.
Perhaps it came when, as a newcomer to the United States in the early 1950s, he met a man who gave him his first job. Dawkins attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., during the day and climbed buildings at night, hanging neon signs. His boss, Art Shaw, later gave Dawkins a fruit stand, where the young college student sold apples and oranges to pay for tuition and books. Eventually, Shaw bought Dawkins a taxicab, and over the next seven years – while he finished medical school at Howard – Dawkins’ single cab grew into a nine-taxi fleet that paid for his postgraduate studies.
The first in his family to leave Jamaica and attend college, Dawkins said the jobs taught him lessons for the future.
“It was a necessity,” he said. “I had no choice. I was the
oldest boy and I was expected to set an example.”
When Dawkins began his residency and then practiced in Riverside, the generosity continued. As he cared for the poor and uninsured, he noticed an all-too-common occurrence.
“I noticed low-income people kept coming back to the emergency room; it became the place where the poor would see their primary-care physicians,” said Dawkins, who speaks with just a hint of the distinctive Jamaican accent of his youth.
After he sold his practice in Riverside, Dawkins happened upon Grass Valley by accident. Driving north from the Bay Area in 1974, he took a detour on Highway 20 and came to Grass Valley. He liked the area so much he stopped by The Union’s old offices on Mill Street and asked for a paper. Four years and many mailed newspapers later, Dawkins moved to Grass Valley, where he first worked in Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital’s emergency room. He now sits on the hospital’s board of directors.
Because of the number of indigents that came to SNMH’s emergency room, Dawkins began Miners Community Clinic in 1986, with his wife serving as bookkeeper. Today, the clinic is part of Sierra Care Physicians.
Dawkins’ work at the clinic, however, is just one of the reasons he is being honored as Humanitarian of the Year, Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation executive director Pam Comstock said.
“It goes beyond what he does in his 9-to-5 job,” Comstock said. Dawkins surfaced as a prime candidate for this award in part for his work with Big Brothers Big Sisters, as well as his global charity work over the past two decades.
He has been involved with medical missions in Mexico and Jamaica, where he helped establish an orphanage near his hometown and delivers medical and other sundry goods and supplies at least once a year.
Dawkins has also employed some of his low-income clients as clerical and secretarial workers at the clinic. A few, through Dawkins’ financial generosity, have entered the medical profession at the offices on Zion Street.
“A lot of these people have no self-value,” he said. “We wanted to give them some responsibility and improve their self-image. A lot of us have grown old together.”
Robert Long, executive director of Miners Community Clinic, believes “medicine is both D’s vocation and avocation. He put himself through college and medical school without owing any money. He’s seen both sides of the street, and has a genuine concern for those less fortunate.”
Why all this charity?
“I feel comfortable doing it,” said Dawkins, who maintains an extensive geriatric practice. “The best thing I have to offer is to share my knowledge and to help. I’m a basic believer that all people are good.”
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