A nationally celebrated scientist, Dr. Rayford was also a dedicated educator who worked tirelessly to recruit and encourage minority youth to pursue a career in medicine.
Rayford and nine others will be honored for their efforts toward equality in healthcare during a public ceremony to be held in the River Market District in Little Rock on Friday, October 24, 2014. Learn more at the 2014 Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail Commemoration.
Dr. Phillip Leon Rayford was born July 25, 1927, to Roosevelt and Eva Rayford in Roanoke, Virginia. After graduating from Lucy Addison High School in 1994, he joined the U.S. Army. Rayford dreamed of becoming a physician, but medical schools did not allow blacks to attend in the late 1940s.
He enrolled at institutions of higher education in Washington D. C., Howard University, an historically black college, and American University, an Methodist-affiliated institution that admitted black students. He went on to earn a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Mayland in College Park where he conducted cancer research with other prominent researchers thanks to the National Institute of Health (NIH).
Rayford continued his studies and earned a doctoral degree in endocrinology, physiology, and biochemistry from the University of Maryland. Afterward, he traveled to Accra, Ghana, on behalf of the U.S. State Department to set up a medical school there. He remained in the country for two and half years before returning to the states.
Before joining the staff of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Rayford was a faculty member at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for seven years. While there he served as assistant dean of medicine, professor and director of the Surgical Biochemistry Laboratory, and professor of biochemistry, human biological chemistry and genetics. Rayford became the first black chairman of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the College of Medicine at UAMS in 1980 and associate dean of minority affairs.
Rayford was a nationally recognized scientist who published more than 200 scientific research papers and more than 10 book chapters. His research activities were continuously funded by NIH. His many achievements include numerous awards such as Who’s Who in Frontier of Science and Technology, International Who’s Who in Education, and the Arkansas Certificate of Merit.
He also received the National Student Medical Association Award for Outstanding Service to Minority Students. Rayford worked tirelessly to successfully recruit and retain minority students in the UAMS College of Medicine and Graduate School. He traveled the state of Arkansas extensively and established high school and college programs to provide a pipeline for minority students to attend UAMS. During his tenure as chairman, the UAMS Department of Physiology and Biophysics received generous extramural grant support and an increase in faculty. Rayford played a pivotal role in the university awarding six doctoral degrees under his tenure. Two of which were awarded to black students – a first at UAMS.
Most of Rayford’s research focused on gastrointestinal (GI) physiology, which he also taught to medical students at UAMS. His established extremely sensitive methods for measuring GI hormone levels and made many fundamental discoveries in his field, expertise he shared with his students. He served as a counselor, role model, and friend for all minority medical and graduate students. Rayford shared his affinity for students with his wife Geraldine Rayford who worked at UAMS at the time as an education coordinator for hospitalized children under the department of child psychiatry. The Rayfords often served as mentors and surrogate parents to the UAMS students.
Rayford died Oct. 2, 2002, at his home in Little Rock, Ark. In 2004, UAMS posthumously dedicated an auditorium in Rayford’s name in the Biomedical Research Center Building II on Oct. 21, 2004. During the dedication ceremony, Rayford’s wife, Geraldine presented the first Phillip L. Rayford Endowed Scholarship to Frederick D. Johnson Jr., a freshman medical student from Hope, Ark. The scholarship is awarded annually to a student who is interested in physiology and endocrinology.
Rayford is part of the inaugural class of individuals who were inducted into the UAMS College of Medicine Hall of Fame in 2004 during the 125th anniversary of the institution.
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Chowdhury, Parimal, Kazumtomo Inoue, and Phillip Leon Rayford. "Effect of nicotine on basal and bombesin stimulated canine plasma levels of gastrin, cholecystokinin and pancreatic polypeptide." Peptides 6, no. 1 (1985): 127-132.
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. "College of Medicine." College of Medicine Hall of Fame Comments. http://medicine.uams.edu/about-the-college/college-of-medicine-history/hall-of-fame/ (accessed September 20, 2014).
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Office of Communications and Marketing (Little Rock), "Phillip Leon Rayford, Ph.D.,Professor Emeritus, College of Medicine, Dies Oct. 2," October 10, 2002.
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. "Rayford Remembered for Gentle Heart, Desire for Excellence During Dedication of Auditorium, Endowed Scholarship - University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences - Where Medicine Lives." http://www.uams.edu/update/absolutenm/templates/news2003v2.asp?articleid=2287&zoneid=15 (accessed September 24, 2014).