Jefferson Underwood III, M.D., died after a five-year-long fight with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, since his diagnosis in 2016. He served the greater Montgomery community for over 40 years.
Underwood’s family said he died peacefully at home the night of Sept. 6, surrounded by family. He was 66 years old.
A graduate of Alabama State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in biology (1977), Underwood obtained his doctor of medicine degree from Meharry Medical College in 1981. He graduated with honors.
After completing his internship and residency in Internal Medicine in the Georgetown University Program at D.C. General Hospital, he returned to Montgomery to join his father in the practice of Internal Medicine. When his father retired in 1993, Underwood continued the practice until his health required him to reluctantly retire.
President Quinton T. Ross, Jr., Ed.D., responded to the news of Underwood’s death.
“The Underwood family members were committed Hornets who donated their time and resources to help ASU students,” Ross said. “Most notably, the family financed the Olean Underwood Tennis Courts located adjacent to the campus. Hornet Nation is grateful to Dr. Underwood for his generosity and love for O’ Mother Dear.”
Underwood was the father of three boys. He now leaves behind two sons and a loving wife.
The Alabama Chapter American College of Physicians recognized Underwood as the 2020 Laureate Award recipient. Additionally, the Medical Association of the State of Alabama presented Dr. Underwood with the 2020 Samuel Buford Word Award. These presentations are typically made in person at the annual meetings. However, due to the cancellation of this year’s events because of COVID-19, Underwood was honored in his home with a small group of family and colleagues present.
Those who knew Underwood said he made a tremendous impact on the medical field, his colleagues, and his patients.
Montgomery County Commissioner Doug Singleton said he was a friend of Underwood’s for nearly 40 years and was his patient for 10 years.
“Jeff’s just a great guy. I mean, willing to do anything for anybody, and it was a blessing for me to get to know Jeff throughout my life,” Singleton said.
Singleton recalled memories of the two of them on the golf course, a hobby he said Underwood had to give up during the progression of his disease.
“It’s a terrible disease, but Jeff fought it as hard as he could. He never complained about it. You never heard him whining about anything. He never said, ‘Poor, poor, pitiful me,’” Singleton said. “Jeff was just an outstanding man.”
Longtime friend Cubie Rae Hayes said she and Underwood attended school together at Alabama State University.
“He had the best personality ever,” Hayes said. “If Jeff was in the room, you would know it. Everybody would know it. He had a magnetic personality.”
Underwood was also Hayes’ physician for years. She recalls him having to leave his practice once his disease worsened.
“I admired that quiet strength that he had, a quiet strength. He knew what he was going through, and he shared with me he said, ‘Cubie, my speech is going to be the first to go and then I’m going to lose control of my body,’ and I told him, ‘Doc, I don’t care what you lose, you are going to have to close your doors before I leave you.’”
Hayes said those who had the chance to know him were lucky.
“If you didn’t meet him, you truly missed meeting a great man,” Hayes said.
Underwood’s father was also a longtime physician in Montgomery, and according to family, was the doctor and friend of Martin Luther King Jr. His brother, Dr. Perrin Underwood, is currently an eye doctor in the city.
Underwood was a distinguished and honored member of the medical community for many years.
In 2018, Underwood became the first African American male to serve as president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama. He previously served the Association as president-elect, vice president, and secretary-treasurer.
“It shows the respect he had from his colleagues, not only here in Montgomery but around the state, because we are a statewide organization, so he was elected by physicians from all over the state,” said Mark Jackson, executive director of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama.
Jackson said what he remembers about Underwood is his kindness, compassion, devotion to his patients and job as a medical professional.
“He took care of the underserved in this community,” Jackson said.
“It wasn’t about the dollar. It was about serving the community. So those that didn’t have health insurance or who were on Medicaid, that population that was underserved and in need of health care services, Dr. Underwood didn’t forget his roots and he was there to provide that service,” Jackson went on to say.
“He would provide services for people that couldn’t pay him, and he never advertised that. He just did it out of the goodness of his heart,” Singleton said. And it’s that compassion, kindness and dedication to his job that Underwood will always be remembered for.
According to the Medical Association of the State of Alabama website, Underwood is a diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine and a fellow of the American College of Physicians.
Underwood was also a member of the American Medical Association, National Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the Alabama Chapter of the American College of Physicians, the International Society for Hypertension in Blacks, as well as the editorial board for the Journal of Ethnicity.
Underwood was also a member of the Montgomery County Medical Society, where he served on the board of trustees and as president.
Excerpts of this article were taken from WSFA-12 and al.com.