Dr. Carl E. Drake Sr., a Depression-era postal worker who persevered with hard work and higher education to become a trailblazing Sacramento psychiatrist, died Dec. 27 at 99, his family said.
He died in his sleep at his South Land Park home, which doubled as his medical office. He saw his last patient about two weeks earlier, before taking a break for the holidays, and he had appointments scheduled this month.
A patriarch of five generations, Dr. Drake was a pioneering as well as enduring figure in the community. He settled in Sacramento in 1958 as a member of a group of African American, middle-class professionals that emerged after World War II.
Believed to be the first black psychiatrist in the capital area, he began working for the California Youth Authority and headed a state mental health clinic. He practiced privately since 1967, except for several years he spent caring for his wife of 71 years, Beatrice, who died in 2008.
He met with patients at his kitchen table, where he also had a regular chess game going for the last 50 years. He worked out on a weightlifting machine in his bedroom well into his 90s.
"He believed very much in the power of exercise and continuing to exercise your mind all your life," said his son Michael.
The son of a cook and a construction worker, Carl Everett Drake Sr. was steadfast in his values through nearly a century of world events and personal accomplishments. He was born in Neptune, N.J., in 1913, only 50 years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and spent his early years overcoming racial barriers.
He played football at Morgan State College in Baltimore, which had the top-ranked program available to African Americans in the 1930s. At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, he was a standout lineman and championship team captain. Married in 1937, however, he left school and worked in a post office.
His wife urged him to return to graduate from Morgan State and to apply to medical school. Unable to attend the segregated University of Maryland, he graduated from historically black Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., in 1949.
He supported his family by working three jobs rushing after graveyard shifts at Harlem Hospital in New York to a private practice before seeing more patients at his home.
"From his early upbringing, he was taught the value of hard work," his son said. "He always said it was a privilege to have a job where you could do well and get recognized."
At 40, Dr. Drake entered the newly emerging field of psychiatry. He completed specialty training and moved to Sacramento to join the state mental health system.
He had four children with his wife, who was a social worker. Two sons became doctors including Michael, who is also chancellor of the University of California, Irvine. Another son is a broadcast engineer, and their daughter is an actress.
In 2010, Dr. Drake attended an event honoring African American high school scholars. He encouraged young people to seek higher education.
"You gotta want it and when you want it, you work for it," he told The Bee. "Once you get the motivation, it's so easy."