Posted on: August 11, 2022
Dr. Lawrence Rogers Burwell, a trailblazing cardiologist, father of four, and grandfather of seven, died on July 28, 2022 at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, VA. He was 84.
Larry was born in Bluefield, WV, and spent his formative years in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Dunbar High School, shortly before the city began to integrate its public schools. After completion of high school, he became part of a long, storied line of prominent Black men to move from Dunbar to Amherst College in Amherst, MA, a group that included Charles Hamilton Houston, William Henry Hastie, and one of Larry’s heroes in medicine, Charles R. Drew.
After graduating from Amherst with an honors degree in biology, Larry attended medical school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. There, he met Ramona Ann Scott, who was enrolled in a graduate program at Case Western. They married in 1964, embarking on a remarkable journey of love.
In the mid-1960s, Dr. Burwell completed an internship and residency at University Hospitals of Cleveland and also served his country as a senior assistant surgeon in the U.S. Public Health Service at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. After a fellowship in cardiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and a faculty position at the University of Rochester, Larry and Ramona moved their family to Charlottesville in 1975 for a position at the University of Virginia. Dr. Burwell integrated the faculty of the School of Medicine, becoming the first (and, for many years, the only) Black doctor at the university’s hospital. He was also the first Black member of the medical school faculty to receive tenure.
Larry was a technology buff – in the exam room, in the laboratory, and at home – and he was among the first American physicians to perform balloon angioplasty, having traveled to Switzerland in the 1970s to learn the procedure from the doctor who invented it. He led the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at the UVA Health Sciences Center and was also the Director of Interventional Cardiology there. During his long career, countless patients traveled hundreds of miles to consult him, and his sharp intellect and skilled hands allowed so many to avoid the deadly consequences of heart disease.
Dr. Burwell was a co-author of many published articles and was particularly proud of his service work to the school and mentorship of Black medical students. He served on the faculty senate, was a member of the medical school admissions committee and a subcommittee on minority students, and he also helped recruit an assistant to the president of the university to work solely on affirmative action matters. He was an active member of the American College of Cardiology, the Association of Black Cardiologists, and the American Heart Association, among other professional societies. He was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha, the national medical honor society, and in 2003 he was honored with the Laureate Award from the Virginia Chapter of the American College of Physicians.
Larry retired in 2003, after 28 years at the university. In his final years, many of the physicians he had trained and mentored cared for him, too.
When he was not caring for patients, Larry served the greater Charlottesville community in a variety of capacities, including as a board member of St. Anne’s-Belfield School, the Jefferson Area Board for Aging, and Computers4Kids. He enjoyed running, tennis, photography, and trading stocks online. He was an avid supporter of Virginia basketball and he was a devoted fan of Washington’s NFL franchise, particularly in the glory years of the 1980s and early ’90s.
But above all else, Larry treasured his family. Tragically, his world was upended in 1995 when Ramona passed away, far too young, from breast cancer. While he persevered through his faith and support from his extended family and many friends, Larry was never quite the same after the loss of his beloved Ramona.
Larry believed that his legacy was the four children that he and Ramona raised and in whom he had boundless pride. He is survived by Scott Burwell, his wife Shannon, and their daughter Serena; Steve Burwell, his wife Heidie, and their children Ellis and Scarlett; Lauren (Burwell) Lee, her husband David Lee, and their children Jackson and Miles; and Leigh (Burwell) Beal, her husband Scott Beal, and their children Henry and Anna. Dr. Burwell was also profoundly grateful for those who cared for him in his later years, Diane Brown, Nedra Brown, and Gayle Scott.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to support two causes that were of particular importance to him:
(1) The University of Virginia School of Medicine Summer Medical Leadership Program, which prepares students from underrepresented groups and disadvantaged backgrounds for careers in medicine. Donations can be directed to University of Virginia Medical School Foundation, P.O. Box, 37963, Boone, Iowa 50037. In the check memo, please indicate: SMLP #23232 in memory of Lawrence R. Burwell, MD. Donations may also be made online by clicking here and typing “School of Medicine Summer Leadership Program” into the Designation box.
(2) Jefferson Area Board for Aging, which provides services and support to help older adults in central Virginia live independently. Donations can be directed to JABA, Inc., Philanthropy & Communications Office, 674 Hillsdale Drive, Suite 9, Charlottesville, VA 22901. Donations may also be made online.
Read a tribute to Dr. Burwell here.