Dr. Asa G. Yancey Sr., 96: First black Grady doctor

Whether he was talking to a colleague, patient, friend or relative, Dr. Asa G. Yancey Sr.’s goal was always to help.

He would provide whatever assistance he could to anyone trying to solve a problem, feel better or make a decision.

Yancey, the first black faculty member at Emory University’s medical school and first black doctor at Grady Memorial Hospital, was determined to make sure other African-Americans didn’t have to struggle like he did.

“He’s probably helped thousands of doctors along the way,” said Dr. W. Lynn Weaver, professor of surgery at Morehouse School of Medicine. “One day I asked him how I could repay him, and he simply said, ‘Never forget where you came from. That is payment enough for me.’”

Asa Greenwood Yancey Sr., a native of Atlanta, died Saturday at his home after a period of declining health. He was 96. A funeral is planned for 1 p.m. Saturday at Friendship Baptist Church, Atlanta. Burial will follow at South-View Cemetery. Murray Brothers Cascade Chapel is in charge of arrangements.

Yancey was the valedictorian of Booker T. Washington High School’s class of 1933. He went on to Morehouse College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1937. He attended the University of Michigan Medical School, where he was one of four African-Americans in the class of 1941.

After an internship in Cleveland, he took a two-year surgical residency at Freedmen’s Hospital at Howard University School of Medicine in Washington. There, he studied under Dr. Charles R. Drew, known for his discoveries in blood storage and processing, among other things. Yancey then completed a surgical fellowship in Boston and went to Nashville for general and gynecological surgery experience.

In 1948 Yancey was appointed chief of surgery at Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital, where he established a surgical training program and conducted research. Ten years later, he joined the faculty at Emory and became the chief of surgery at the former Hughes Spalding Pavilion of Grady Memorial Hospital, a position he held from 1958 to 1972.

During that time Yancey put together an accredited surgical training program for African-Americans, a first in Georgia at the time. In 1972 he became the medical director at Grady and associate dean at Emory’s medical school. Around the same time, Yancey served as a member of the Atlanta school board for 10 years, said his daughter, Dr. Carolyn L. Yancey of Silver Spring, Md.

“He believed we all had a role to play in conquering segregation, and this was part of his contribution to the fight,” she said.

He retired in 1989 and was named professor emeritus of surgery at Emory. Two years later, Grady honored Yancey by putting his name on its health center on Bankhead Highway.

Yancey and his wife, the former Carolyn E. Dunbar, raised four children — three of whom became physicians. The couple had been married for more than 65 years when she died in 2010. One of their twin daughters, Caren L. Yancey Covington, died in 2005.

Carolyn L. Yancey said her father found joy not only in his work, but also with his family.

“He was a loving and caring father, who was always there for us,” she said. “You know, not everyone who has a parent who is a doctor can say that, but he always had time for us.”

In addition to his daughter, Yancey is survived by two sons, Dr. Arthur H. Yancey II of Atlanta and Dr. Asa G. Yancey Jr. of Denver; and eight grandchildren.