This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
For more than a half-century, Dr. Alyce Gullattee treated countless drug addicts, AIDS patients and prostitutes in Washington, even if it meant taking to some of the city’s more dangerous streets to help those in desperate need.
“Dr. G,” as she was affectionately called by patients, became a nationally recognized expert on substance abuse as an associate professor of psychiatry at Howard University and director of Howard’s Institute on Drug Abuse and Addiction. She served on White House committees on substance abuse for three presidents: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
Dr. Gullattee (pronounced guh-LAH-tee) died on April 30 in Rockville, Md., after testing positive for Covid-19, her daughter Aishaetu Gullattee said. She was 91. She had suffered a stroke in February and had been hospitalized for weeks.
A determined and outspoken advocate, Dr. Gullattee spent a lifetime trying to break down racial barriers for the most vulnerable members of the African-American community.
The Rev. Willie Wilson, a retired pastor at Union Temple Baptist Church in Washington, told NPR in May about the stories he had heard from victims of the drug crisis in the 1980s. “I was working with a lot of people who had problems with substance abuse,” he said, “and they were telling me about this doctor who was going up to 7th and T, into the crack houses, pulling people out and taking them to Howard University for treatment.”
Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick, Howard’s president, said in a statement that Dr. Gullattee’s service to the university had been “unparalleled.”
“She played a significant role in the education and training of literally thousands of physicians,” he said, “including a significant percentage of the African-American physicians practicing in this country.”
Alyce Chenault was born on June 28, 1928, in Detroit to Bertha and Earl Chenault. Her father stoked furnaces at a Chrysler plant. Though neither of her parents attended high school, they insisted that their children get an education.
Alyce went to the University of California at Santa Barbara, where the environment was hostile for Black students. Frustrated by what she saw as overt racism and a dearth of opportunities, she picketed stores in Santa Barbara where there were no employees of color except in menial positions. She graduated in 1956 with a degree in zoology.
She met her future husband, Latinee Gullattee, at the school, and the couple moved to Washington, where Dr. Gullattee was accepted into the Howard University College of Medicine. After graduating in 1964 as class president, she did her residency at local hospitals and, in 1970, joined the Howard faculty in the department of neuropsychiatry. She would teach there for decades.
In 1971, during the Attica prison uprising in western New York, Dr. Gullattee led a six-person team of doctors from Howard who traveled there to consult with officials about the unrest. Her group was refused entrance to the prison, though white physicians were seen entering and leaving.
“I think they’re in a state of post-siege shock,” she told The New York Times. “They had a far more serious crisis than they thought.”
In addition to her daughter Aishaetu, Dr. Gullattee is survived by another daughter, Deborjha Blackwell; 10 grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.