By Barney Blakeney
Earlier this month the Charleston community lost two giants – Dr. Catherine McKee McCottry and Rev. Dr. Robert V. Leeper. They each made immeasurable contributions to both our physical and spiritual well-being.
Dr. McCottry, the widow of Dr. Turner M. McCottry, transitioned Feb. 6. She was 98. During her remarkable life, Dr. McCottry’s achievements and accomplishments were stellar. A Charlotte, N.C. native, she received professional preparation and training from Barber Scotia Junior College, a finishing school for young girls in Concord, North Carolina and earned a BS degree in Biology from Johnson C. Smith University in 1941. She made history by becoming the first female student to graduate from Johnson C. Smith University with a medical degree. She went on to study under Dr. Charles Drew and earned a degree from Howard University School of Medicine in 1945.
Dr. McCottry completed residencies at Harlem Hospital, New York, NY; Good Samaritan Hospital in Charlotte, and Providence Hospital, Chicago, Illinois. Her specialty was obstetrics and gynecology. After finishing her residencies, Dr. McCottry returned to Charlotte where she practiced medicine from 1946 to 1952 and was Charlotte’s first African American female physician. In 1952, she moved to Charleston to join her husband who was practicing medicine here. They had married while both were medical students. She set up practice and became the first African American female practitioner in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Dr. McCottry’s proven reputation and professional skills as an outstanding surgeon established her as the first African American gynecologist in the Charleston area. She was the first African American to desegregate the Charleston hospitals during the late 1960s and was the chief surgeon at McClellan-Banks Hospital.
During her extensive practice as a physician, Dr. McCottry was responsible for the birth of more than 1,000 children. Because of her inherent passion for medicine, Dr. McCottry seized the initiative to mentor innumerable young upcoming physicians, many of whom are currently active in their respective medical careers.
Additionally, she was influential for more than 40 years in the education of the community on health matters through of Alpha Kappa Sorority, Inc. Gamma Xi Omega Chapter’s health committee. She initiated a country-wide hypertension education program for 15-23 year old individuals and developed a pre-natal care counseling program for pregnant teenage girls. Because of her persistent support of the American Cancer Society through extensive fund-raising, sponsorship of various clinics, and presenting a range of symposiums on cancer awareness, she received a gold pin from the American Cancer Society and a room at the Hope Lodge was named in her honor.
Dr. McCottry leaves to cherish her a daughter, Tammy McCottry; a son, Charles (Barbara) McCottry; a dedicated and loving sister-in-law, Cynthia McCottry Smith; and five grandchildren, Catherine, Taylor, Shemar, Myah and Jordan. She was a special aunt and mother to many.
Pittsburgh, Pa. native Rev. Dr. Leeper transitioned Feb. 20. He was 86. After some 46 years in the ministry Rev. Dr. Leeper in 2014 retired as pastor of New Covenant Church of God in North Charleston and Miley Church of God in Miley. He has served those congregations the past 37 years. He also was a dedicated and influential member of the Charleston area Interdenominational Ministers Alliance.
Rev. Dr. Leeper, distinguished himself as both a minister and community leader since moving to Summerville in 1977. A former U.S. Government employee who retired as a manager for the U.S. Patent Office with a total of 30 years government service in 1977, he was appointed a magistrate for Dorchester County in 1986 by then Gov. Richard Riley and served in that capacity six years. He is a life time member of the S.C. Summary Court Judges Association.
Rev. Dr. Leeper grew up in Pittsburgh where he received his formal education. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1948. During his eight years in the Air Force Rev. Dr. Leeper was a boxer who in 1951 won the Air Force’s World Wide Championship in his division in addition to several golden glove championships.
As a young man Rev. Dr. Leeper worked for several government agencies in Washington, D.C. after leaving the Air Force. It was in Washington where he met his wife of 59 years, the late Willetta Wroten Leeper of Washington. To their 1954 union four children were born – Karen Leeper Blair, Brenda Leeper Smalls, Robert V. Leeper Jr. and Mark Edward Leeper. Rev. Dr. Leeper was widowed after his wife succumbed to a long illness in 2014.
In 1968 Rev. Leeper was ordained at the Monroe Street Church of God in Baltimore, Md. afterwards he served in numerous capacities as pastor and in other leadership roles in Washington, Middlesex, Pa. and South Carolina.
He has earned several honorary divinity degrees – from Washington Bible Institute and the Christian Bible School and Ministry in Washington and an honorary Doctorate of Divinity Degree in 1990 from the School of Religion in Detroit, Mich. He also earned honorary degrees in 1991 in from the Faith Evangelistic Christian School of Theology Seminary Division in Anderson.
Rev. Dr. Leeper was the proud grandfather of four grandchildren and one great-grandson.