By Michael P Coleman
As we celebrate Father’s Day and honor fathers (and father figures) everywhere this month, THE HUB is proud to honor and remember Dr. Vernon L. Walton, father of four and Sacramento’s first African American pediatrician.
Dr. Walton, or “Sonny” as he was known by family and friends, was born in 1930 in Wynne, Arkansas. He spent time in Illinois and Oklahoma, where he attended Langston University. He then returned to Illinois where he enrolled in medical school. While he was completing his residency in Chicago, he met his wife, Velma, who was a nursing student at the same hospital. They married and in 1960 they moved to California.
After serving two years active duty as a Navy doctor in San Diego, Dr. Walton moved his family to Sacramento and started his medical practice in Del Paso Heights. His eldest daughter, Stephanie, remembers that time well.
“Initially he was doing family practice,” Stephanie recalls. “Back in that day, pediatrics was more of a new specialty. Kids were seen by family practice doctors. He fell in love with taking care of kids, and went back and did his specialty training in pediatrics.”
Long before “Take Your Child To Work Day” was a thought in anyone’s mind, Dr. Walton exposed his children to his chosen profession.
“I remember as a small child hopping in the car with him and going on house calls,” Stephanie recalls. “Sometimes I’d wait in the car, or sometimes on the step of the house. I remember going from house to house to house back in the day. When I was old enough, I worked in the office a little bit, and got a feeling for what was going on there.”
Stephanie got more than just a “feeling” during those years. She ultimately followed her father’s career path. Today, she’s better known as Dr. Stephanie Walton, and like her dad did, she practices pediatric medicine in Sacramento. And all three of her siblings — Vernon L. Jr., Rosemarie, and Kathleen M. — chose careers in public service.
After 40 years of practicing pediatrics in Sacramento, Dr. Walton retired in 2010. He remained active in the community and his church until the family and our community lost him after a short illness earlier this year. He is survived by his four children and his wife of 60 years.
The Walton family, and everyone else who knew him, will always remember him fondly.
“He was fun, always busy doing something. I don’t think he every slept,” Dr. Stephanie Walton wistfully remembers. “He was very active in the church, and he loved taking care of kids and watching them grow up. He was a mentor to quite a few young people.”
“I’ll tell you what he would tell every kid that he ever met,” Dr. Stephanie continues. “If you work hard, you can do anything you want to do. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do.”
In honor of Dr. Walton, the family has established a scholarship fund to support African American students who pursue careers in the sciences. Contributions can be made to St. Hope Academy, ℅ the Vernon L. Walton Scholarship Fund, PO Box 5447, Sacramento, California 95817.
Connect with Sacramento-based freelancer Michael P Coleman at michaelpcoleman.com or follow him on Twitter: @ColemanMichaelP.
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