Dr. Philip V. Lavizzo, one of the first African American doctors to practice surgery in the Pacific Northwest, was born in 1917. Very little is known about his early life. He graduated from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee and initially practiced medicine in New Orleans, Louisiana.
While in New Orleans, Dr. Lavizzo developed a national reputation as a medical innovator. He coauthored “Observations on the General Adaptation of Syndrome: Surgery as Measured by the Eosinophil Response.” This prized paper was delivered at the first annual Charles Drew Memorial Forum in August 1951.
Dr. Lavizzo and his wife Dr. Blanche Lavizzo, who was a pediatrician, left practices in New Orleans, Louisiana, to pursue medical careers in the Pacific Northwest. They arrived in Seattle, Washington in 1956 and he began a practice of surgery in the office of Dr. Robert Joyner, another African American physician, on Madison Avenue East. He later moved his office across from Providence Hospital. Dr. Philip Lavizzo, one of the first African American general surgeons in the region, was hired as an assistant surgeon in the United States Public Health Service in Seattle.
In 1956-1957, Dr. Lavizzo served on the education committee of the Seattle Urban League. In 1965, Dr. Lavizzo was appointed chairman of the personnel committee of the Seattle King County Economic Opportunity Committee (EOC) Board, the local governmental organization created in the aftermath of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declared War on Poverty. The King County EOC managed a range of anti-poverty programs and initiatives to help the poor in the area. Also in 1965, Dr. Lavizzo became one of the 11 founding members of the Alpha Omicron Boule of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity.
Thomas Ward, author of Black Physicians in the Jim Crow South, describes Dr. Lavizzo as one of the pioneer early 20th century black medical professionals. He introduces Chapter 4 of the book with a quote by Dr. Lavizzo reflecting on his optimism in the face of a long history of racial discrimination against African Americans in the medical profession. “The future of the race,” wrote Ward quoting Lavizzo, “seems just as bright for the attainment of basic rights and privileges, both in and out of the profession, as the past has been dismal.”
Dr. Philip Lavizzo died in Seattle from Parkinson’s disease on June 16, 1972. He left behind his wife, Dr. Blanche Lavizzo, who was also a respected physician and the first African American Director of the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic in Seattle. His daughter, Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, was named president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2003.