Honoring Two Pioneers

Black students at the University of Virginia School of Medicine are following in the path forged by Dr. Edward Wood (Med ’57) and Dr. Edward Nash (Med ’57), the first two Black graduates of the school. A scholarship for underrepresented students at the school now bears their names.

Derrick Collins, associate director of development for the School of Medicine, and his colleagues at the Medical Alumni Association were the first to envision a scholarship named for Wood and Nash. While researching the lives of the two doctors, Collins learned that Nash had died, but Wood was living in New York and had attended a Medical Alumni Association retreat. At the retreat, he met Dr. David S. Wilkes, then dean of the Medical School, and shared his plan to support a scholarship through his estate. Collins traveled to meet Wood and hear firsthand about his time at UVA. “I listened to his story,” Collins remembered, “and felt even more inspired and motivated to make the scholarship happen.”

Collins had also been corresponding with Dr. Ken Walker (Med ’75) and Mary Ann Walker (Nurs ’73). When Ken Walker applied to medical schools as an undergraduate at St. Bonaventure University in New York, his mentors encouraged him to look at Catholic schools. But Walker had other priorities. “I was tired of the cold,” he said. He applied to schools farther south, including UVA. Invited to interview in early October, once on Grounds, he took one look at the students in white coats taking breaks on the grass in the warm sunshine and canceled his other interviews.

photos from throughout Dr. Wood's life
Dr. Edward Wood shared his memories, which are archived at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, with an oral history he recorded in 2021.

When Mary Ann Walker attended the University, women were only allowed to pursue degrees in nursing and education. Nursing students were admitted for their third and fourth years, but prospective students had to apply to UVA twice: as high school seniors and again before their third year. Walker's second application was rejected because of a transcript error, so she hitchhiked from Fredericksburg to Charlottesville to make her case. She knocked on the door of Betty Norris, director of the undergraduate nursing program, who assured Walker she'd make a spot for her in the Class of 1973. The legendary Barbara Brodie later invited Walker to join the nurse practitioner program Brodie had just founded.

The Walkers met on Grounds and were married in the University Chapel on another beautiful October day. They established a medical practice serving families in rural Giles County, Virginia, and had two children, Hunter Walker (Col ’00, McIntire ’15) and Grayson Walker (Col ’06). Upon retirement, the couple moved back to Charlottesville.

The Walkers were deeply grateful for the support they had received at UVA and for the life their educations had helped them build. With the 45th anniversary of Ken Walker's graduation from medical school approaching, a gift to provide similar opportunities to others felt like the right way to express their gratitude and to celebrate that milestone.

“We approached the school to ask about a gift that would align with its future initiatives during its bicentennial year,” Ken Walker said. Both Walkers were concerned about inequity in medicine and wanted to help talented, underrepresented students choose UVA as an affordable option. When Collins approached the Walkers with the idea of naming the scholarship for Wood and Nash, they were excited. The Wood Nash Bicentennial Scholarship Fund was a reality.

Others have stepped up to support the scholarship, including Dr. Vivian Pinn (Med ’67), the only woman and only Black student in her graduating class, who went on to lead the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Anastasia Williams (Med ’98) and Sanford Williams (Law ’96), long-serving members of the Parents Committee whose three children all graduated from UVA, also contributed.

Dr. William Womack (Med ’61), another Black alum, was planning to contribute to the Wood Nash Scholarship. He died in late 2020 before he could make his gift, but Womack’s daughter and son-in-law found information about the scholarship on his nightstand and made sure to fulfill his wishes.

Relatives of Medical School alumni also supported the scholarship. Dr. Lori Luck (Med ’95), the daughter of alumnus Dr. Albert Luck (Med ’58), made a gift in honor of her father, the third Black student to attend the school. Martin V. Burks III and Deborah Burks, parents of Martin Burks IV (Engr ’07, Med ’13), contributed; the Burks operate the historic J.F. Bell Funeral Home in Charlottesville.

“We had all these stories that we didn't know about and all these connections to people,” said Collins. “It was great to see how they all came together to honor these pioneers in the School of Medicine. It was just phenomenal.”

This article originally appeared in the UVA Office of Advancement's publication, Envision.

Help transform the future of healthcare by making your gift today or contacting Derrick Collins for more information.