This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: When Dr. Leslie Bond was selling newspapers as a boy in Galesburg, Ill., he couldn’t take a lunch break in a diner with the other newspaper boys.
“I couldn’t sit at a lunch counter,” he recalled in a 1999 profile in the book, Lift Every Voice and Sing. “I had to get my lunch in a sack, while my white friends who sold newspapers with me ate right there.”
As a teenager, he could go to the movie theater, but had to sit in the balcony; as a college student, he could not stay in the dormitory; as an intern, he could only train at a “black” hospital and when he became a full-fledge doctor, his opportunities to practice were limited.
Nevertheless, when Dr. Bond, a family physician and general surgeon, died on Thursday (March 21, 2013), he had achieved broad renown.
“He was known across the community and he had everyone’s respect,” said Robert L. Virgil, a retired partner at Edward Jones who co-chaired a citizens’ task force with Dr. Bond. “Les was one of the finest people I ever knew.”
Dr. Bond, who was 85, died of small cell lung cancer at his home at McKnight Place. Until two and a half years ago, the Bonds had lived on Lindell Boulevard with a view of Forest Park. They were the first black family to buy one of the grand Lindell homes in 1965.
A memorial service will be Saturday, April 20, 2013, at Central Baptist Church in St. Louis.
Leslie Fee Bond was the middle child of Ona and Henry W. Bond, a school teacher and a doctor who made house calls in exchange for “eggs or bacon, pies or cakes” when his patients didn’t have the 25-cent fee.
“He taught me to look at people with compassion,” Dr. Bond said.
It wasn’t always easy to do. Black doctors were finally able to integrate the staffs of St. Louis hospitals in the late 1960s; gaining full acceptance came later.
In 2008, when the American Medical Association issued a public apology for past discrimination, Dr. Bond shared a story with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
He recalled when he had to tell a mother that her child had died. The painful moment became more so when the mother, in tears, reached for his support. The hospital’s religious director quickly pulled the distraught mother away from the comfort he offered because he was black; she was white.
The incident and a lifetime of other indignities could not diminish his kindness.
“I remember going to his office on Kingshighway for a meeting and seeing what some of his patients thought of him,” Virgil said. “They had a great deal of confidence in him and rightly so.”
Dr. Bond set up practice at Easton Avenue (now Dr. Martin Luther King Drive) and Kingshighway in 1958. He was on staff at Christian Hospital, DePaul Hospital, Forest Park Hospital and was an assistant in clinical surgery at Washington University. From 1996-98, he served as medical director of Peoples Health Centers. He retired in 2003.
Heritage of leadership
Dr. Bond was born in Louisville, Ky., and lived there until he was 10, when his family moved to Galesburg.
At the age of 16, he graduated as valedictorian of Galesburg High School. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and graduated from Meharry Medical School, his father’s alma mater, in 1952. He continued in his father’s footsteps, completing his residency at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis.
With his colleagues from Homer G, a mecca for training black doctors from across the country, he helped revolutionize health care.
“They developed the concept of community-based health care in the 1950s and ‘60s,” said his son, Les Jr.
In his biography, Dr. Bond modestly declared that he was no innovator, but that he came from “a long heritage of people who have made contributions to civil rights.”
His grandfather was “a lawyer from the hills of Kentucky” and his grandfather’s brother, John G. Fee, founded Berea College, the first college for blacks in the state. His younger cousin is civil rights activist Julian Bond.
As his career flourished, Dr. Bond became a much-recruited civic leader.
In 1996, he and Virgil were tapped by St. Louis Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. and St. Louis County Executive George “Buzz” Westfall to lead a 25-member commission to improve the Metropolitan Sewer District.
A Post-Dispatch editorial later lauded the committee’s efforts, noting, “rarely has a group such as the MSD Conversion/Implementation Committee devoted more time and effort to public service – particularly its co-chairmen, Robert Virgil and Dr. Leslie Bond.”
The committee recommended against privatization to permit the raising of revenue without a public vote and for allowing MSD to issue district-wide revenue bonds for sewer construction.
“Many recommendations we made strengthened the systems and governance and paved the way to make it easier to do financing,” Virgil said.
Virgil gave Dr. Bond much of the credit.
“Les was strong, quiet, highly principled and very committed to the community,” Virgil said. “We were herding cats; it was Les and his strength and integrity that helped us to stay above all of that.”
Dr. Bond was named to the powerful St. Louis Police Board in 1998 by Gov. Mel Carnahan; in 2001, Gov. Bob Holden reappointed him to serve on an interim basis, replacing a commissioner who had been forced to resign. He was later appointed by Mayor Francis Slay to the St Louis Police Retirement System board.
He served as a trustee of the National Medical Association; president of the Mound City Medical Forum, the Missouri Pan-Medical Association and the Homer G. Phillips Interns’ Association; chair of the surgical section of the National Medical Association and chair of the State of Missouri Physicians-Pharmacists Advisory Committee to Medicaid, where he served as a member for 20 years.
He was known for being soft-spoken, but a bold advocate.
"Medicaid is woefully underfunded in Missouri because most of our legislators aren't interested in the program," he told the Post-Dispatch in 1988.
Years later, he publicly excoriated a former political ally, calling him a “closet bigot.”
In 1993, he founded and was the inaugural president of the St. Louis chapter of the National Association of Guardsmen, a social club of professional men. He belonged to the Eta Boule Chapter of St. Louis and was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
“He was a humble leader who never looked for any accolades,” said his daughter, Candace Bond McKeever.
But recognitions abounded.
He was a lifetime member of the NAACP and in 2008, he received the NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2009, the NAACP honored Dr. Bond and his wife, Anita, among the 100 Most Inspiring St. Louisans.
He was honored in 2007 as a St. Louis American Foundation Lifetime Achiever in its Salute to Excellence in Health Care.
The Bonds received lifetime achievement awards from Mary Institute-Country Day School in 1998. They established a scholarship in honor of their son, Erik L. Bond, the first African-American student to complete all of the grades at Country Day School.
Dr. Bond was preceded in death by his parents, his older brother, Charles, and his son, Erik.
His survivors include his wife of 58 years, Anita Bond, the first African-American undergraduate of Saint Louis University, a former teacher and St. Louis School Board member; his son, Leslie F. Bond Jr., Chicago, and daughter, Candace Bond (Steve) McKeever, Los Angeles; his sister, Patsy Ruth Berry, Galesburg, Ill., and three grandchildren, Noelle Bond and Brent and Maddox Bond McKeever.
A celebration of Dr. Bond’s life will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 20, 2013, at Central Baptist Church, where he had been a member for several decades. The church is at 2842 Washington Ave., St. Louis.
Memorials may be sent to the Erik L. Bond Scholarship, MICDS Alumni and Development Office, 101 North Warson Road, St. Louis, Mo., 63124, or www.micds.org/giving.
Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and production service.