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Dr. Lionel Desbordes, obstetrician who delivered thousands of babies, dies

Dr. Lionel Desbordes is estimated to have delivered more than 20,000 babies.
Dr. Lionel Desbordes is estimated to have delivered more than 20,000 babies. (Handout / HANDOUT)

Dr. Lionel A. Desbordes, an obstetrician and gynecologist who delivered thousands of babies during a lengthy career, and who was among the founders of the Garwyn Medical Center, died of heart failure Nov. 27 at Brighton Gardens of Columbia. The longtime Forest Park resident was 97.

Born in New Orleans, he was the son of George Peter Desbordes, a Post Office letter carrier, and Alice Hebrard, a homemaker. Known as “Des,” he was the fifth of 10 children.

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Family members said his siblings commented that as a child, he was gifted in making things with his hands. He would make toys from tin and wood that his brothers, sisters and the neighborhood children enjoyed, family members said.

He graduated from McDonogh 35 College Preparatory High School, where he excelled academically and was class salutatorian. At the time he attended the school, it was the lone college preparatory school for African Americans in New Orleans. The school was named for John McDonogh, a Baltimore-born merchant who gave his fortune to educate whites and freed Blacks.

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Dr. Desbordes earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Dillard University in New Orleans, moved to Washington, D.C., and lived with an older sister, Geraldine Echols, while attending Howard University Medical School. He earned his degree in 1951.

He trained and completed his internship and residency at District of Columbia General Hospital, Harlem Hospital in New York City and Freedmen’s Hospital, also in Washington. He was board-certified as an obstetrician/gynecologist and later became a diplomate of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

His son, Lionel Desbordes II of Ellicott City, said: “My father was reserved and knowledgeable. People enjoyed his company. He was a stickler for punctuality and often scheduled a surgery in the morning at 7:59 and a half. He also had many a phone call for a baby delivery in the middle of the night.”

While he was working in New York, two of his friends, Dr. Samuel Owings and Barbara Owings, introduced him to his future wife, Geraldine Lavenia Faithful.

“It was immediate love, and they wed on June 8, 1963, at the family home of his bride in Flushing, Ohio,” his son said.

After moving to Baltimore, he was among a group of African American physicians who co-founded the Garwyn Medical Center on Garrison Boulevard in 1967. He previously had a private practice on Baker Street in West Baltimore.

His son said the medical center serves the Baltimore community with multiple medical specialists.

Dr. Desbordes saw patients until 1995, when he closed his practice.

During those years he had privileges at St. Agnes Hospital, Maryland General Hospital, Sinai Hospital, and the old Lutheran and Provident hospitals.

He continued to practice medicine with the Baltimore City Health Department by working at neighborhood clinics.

Dr. Desbordes retired in 2005.

“At one point it was estimated that he delivered over 20,000 children during his career,” his son said.

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“My father enjoyed organizing events that allowed family and friends to get together,” his son said “He originated the Desbordes family reunions, first at his home on Norfolk Avenue and then having the reunions travel to locations around the United States where his siblings resided.”

Every other year the reunions were held in New Orleans.

At Christmas, he would set up a phone call with all 10 siblings, “and everyone would get a chance to wish a Merry Christmas to one another,” his son said “They would end the call by singing ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas.’ ”

He enjoyed organizing his own birthday parties at his home and going to the Preakness Stakes with friends. He was a season ticket holder to the Baltimore Colts and Bullets and took his sons to these sporting events.

“He was very proud of his New Orleans roots and would help host an annual Mardi Gras party with fellow New Orleanians who lived in the Baltimore area that called themselves the Mardi Gras Friends,” his son said.

He belonged to the National Medical Association, the MeDeSo Club, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and Sigma Pi Phi fraternity. He took up hobbies — painted in acrylics, in the abstract style, and played tennis and bridge. He also bowled with a group called the Emanons. He cared for his plants and baked banana bread pudding.

He was a member of New All Saints Roman Catholic Church.

A funeral will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the March Life Tribute Center on Old Court Road in Randallstown.

In addition to his son, survivors include two other sons, Dr. Byron Desbordes of Columbia and David Desbordes of Georgia; a brother, Dr. Fabian Desbordes of Pikesville; two sisters, Lorraine Desbordes of New Orleans and Agnes McKay of Carson, California; and grandchildren. His wife of 45 years, a Kernan Hospital dietitian, died in 2009.

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