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Delano Meriwether: Dr. Do-It-All

Dr. Delano Meriwether

Delano Meriwether: Dr. Do-It-All

Whether as a public health official or a track star, Delano Meriwether knows how to get the job done.

Growing up Black in segregated Charleston, South Carolina, there were certain places Delano Meriwether simply could not go. When Meriwether came to MSU in the fall of 1960, however, he felt like he had entered a whole new world.

For the first time, Meriwether could go to the movies and any restaurant he wanted to. He even joined an intramural volleyball team. “It was very clear to me when I went out to Michigan State, I had to make the most of it,” Meriwether said. “But how can you make the most of something when there are so many distractions?”

Those distractions did not end up slowing Meriwether down. Instead, after three years, he left MSU without a degree, but with a glowing resume. His only bad experience, he said, was informing his favorite professor he was leaving MSU’s veterinary program. “I don’t normally quit things,” Meriwether said, “but once I had Michigan State’s blessing, I felt ready to apply to medical school.” His career at Michigan State came to an end, but had nothing but good things to say about his time there. “MSU was a joyous place for me,” he said.  

Meriwether left MSU and became the first Black American to enroll at Duke University School of Medicine, and by 1976, he was appointed the director of the U.S. Public Health Service’s immunization program. On top of that, Meriwether became a track star, winning the 1971 national championship in the 100-yard dash.

Living a full life has never been a problem for Meriwether.

Ten years prior to becoming an integral part of the immunization program in the 1970s, he enrolled at MSU with the plan of becoming a veterinarian. He had worked in a veterinary hospital in high school and won an award from the American Veterinary Medical Association for his research on internal parasites found in dogs— MSU recruited him because of the award. After beginning his studies at MSU, however, Meriwether decided he wanted to be a medical doctor.

The veterinary world’s loss was a gain for the world of medicine. Meriwether graduated from Duke in 1967, and then earned a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University. Soon after, he oversaw the immunization program, where he was tasked with leading the team in charge of immunizing over 100 million people against the swine flu in a span of six months. Because he was also a track star, Meriwether was profiled by Sports Illustrated, Time and People, among others. The more publicity regarding the vaccine, Meriwether thought, the better.  

Today, as the world begins the rollout of a vaccine for the coronavirus, Meriwether is hopeful the process goes as well as it did for him back in 1976—even if he has his worries. “We need to approach and address the whole issue of the current pandemic on the basis of sense,” Meriwether said. “Common sense, as well as scientific sense.”

After his work on the vaccine, Meriwether spent much of the 1980s in South Africa, working as a doctor for millions in the region. Now 77, he lives in Maryland with his wife, just outside of Washington, D.C. While he is no longer running a public health program or running sprints down the track, Meriwether is still trying to live a full life, just like he did at MSU.

Like the young man who came to MSU and faced distractions, Meriwether remains open to anything and everything. “I still have a lot to learn,” he said. It is very likely he will. 

Delano Meriwether Named Alumni Grand Award Recipient

On Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, Meriwether will be among 12 other Spartans who will be honored during the Grand Awards Gala in East Lansing, Michigan. This signature event, hosted by the MSU Alumni Office, recognizes alumni and friends who positively reflect the values of MSU through their inspiring contributions of service, excellence and generosity. 

Nominations are currently being accepted for the 2022 awards. If you know a great Spartan, please consider submitting a nomination here by Sept. 1, 2021.

Author: Liam Boylan-Pett

Spartan Profiles — Winter 2021