Dr. Garfield D. Kington, a physician who was a familiar and comforting presence to his West Baltimore patients for decades, died Aug. 3 of multiple myeloma at his Northwest Baltimore home. He was 91.
"We were colleagues on the medical staff at Provident Hospital and became friends. I met Dr. Kington and observed him in his office, where he worked late through the day seeing patients in a tough neighborhood and provided an excellent standard of care," said Dr. Keiffer Mitchell, an internist who has practiced in Baltimore for 43 years.
"I was honored that he chose me to be his personal physician for more than 30 years. He was a gentleman and a scholar, and we both went to the same medical school," said Dr. Mitchell.
"Dr. Kington had a well-known family practice in the black community in West Baltimore and was well-respected. He provided medical care any way possible," said Eric March, a longtime family friend.
The son of Enos "Bob" Kington, a carpenter, and Arriah Kington, a homemaker, Garfield Douglas Kington was born in Mount Airy, Jamaica.
When he was 9 months old, he arrived at Ellis Island with his mother aboard the S.S. Virginia. They settled in Harlem.
They were reunited with Dr. Kington's father, who had been deported to Jamaica in 1923 and later that year landed illegally at New York, when he deserted the ship he was serving on.
"In all likelihood, he worked in New York for at least some time as an undocumented immigrant, though he was ultimately able to obtain legal status," Dr. Kington's son, Dr. Raynard S. Kington, a physician who is president of Grinnell College in Iowa, wrote of his grandfather in an article on immigration that was published last year in the Des Moines Register.
Dr. Kington received his early education in New York City public schools.
During the Depression, he returned with his family to Kingston, Jamaica, where he graduated in 1946 from St. Simon's College.
He returned to New York City, where he became a U.S. citizen, and earned a bachelor's degree in 1949 from New York University.
He earned his medical degree in 1953 from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., and then was drafted during his residency and served in the Navy at Camp Lejeune, N.C., as an officer after the desegregation of the military, his son said.
After he was discharged from the Navy, he completed his residency in internal medicine at the old Fort Howard Veterans Administration hospital.
In 1957, he joined the staff of the old Provident Hospital in the department of internal medicine. He established a private practice on the first floor of a rowhouse in the 800 block of Harlem Ave., where he practiced medicine six days a week for 40 years, retiring in 1997.
"He was brilliant, but there were so few opportunities for African-American doctors in those days," his son said. "This was the era of segregated wards in Baltimore hospitals, including Hopkins, and this enraged him.
"It was a solo practice, and he'd work from 10 a.m. to noon, visit the hospital, and then eat an early supper," his son said. "He then returned to his office at 5 p.m., where he saw patients until 8 p.m. On Saturdays, he saw patients from 9 a.m. to noon. Sometimes they'd be sitting on the steps waiting for him."
His son said Dr. Kington made his practice "adaptable to his patients, who were largely the working poor."
Dr. Kington operated his practice without an appointment book or a billing system. He continued making house calls — even in the dead of night — through the 1970s and 1980s.
"Patients came in, signed the book, and then he'd call them. He saw every patient who signed the book, and there were Saturdays when we were all waiting for him to come home because we wanted to go to the beach," his son said, laughing.
"He was known for treating patients without regard to their financial ability to pay for treatments. He didn't care if they had any money or not, he'd see them," his son said.
"A lot of his patients in those pre-Medicare and -Medicaid days would save up silver dollars and then would come see him. I don't think my father ever made more than $50,000 [a year] during his career," said Dr. Kington.
"He was very dedicated and an eccentric. He marched to his own drummer. He drove a Volkswagen minibus, and some of his patients wondered why he didn't drive a black Cadillac. Doctors were supposed to drive flashy Cadillacs," his son said.
"He often reminded me of Frederick Douglass in the way he looked and carried himself. He was a character who had some very strong opinions about a lot of things," said Mr. March. "It was always a good conversation because of his insights. He was from Jamaica, and I think he brought some of that firebrand with him."
"Garfield always supported my grandmother Lillian M. Jackson's NAACP crusades to eliminate apartheid in Maryland," said Dr. Mitchell.
A resident of the Imperial Condominiums on Park Heights Avenue, Dr. Kington enjoyed calligraphy, philosophy and music. When he was in his 60s, he decided to take guitar lessons at the Peabody Conservatory.
"And when he retired, there was no party for him. He was just an old-fashioned city-country doctor who saw anyone who came in the door," his son said.
His wife of more than 50 years, the former Mildred E. Shavers, an educator, died in 2012.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at March West Funeral Home, 4300 Wabash Ave.
In addition to his son, Dr. Kington is survived by three other sons, Douglas R. Kington of Baltimore, Gregory A. Kington of Los Altos, Calif., and Emerson A. Kington of Boston; a daughter, Gail Kington-Lloyd of Pittsburgh; and five grandchildren.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun