SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - Jerome Lackner, a doctor, lawyer, and passionate social activist known for his connections to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez, died Friday in Davis, Calif., of congestive heart failure. He was 82.
Lackner spent his life fighting to provide care and support to those who most needed it, a mission that resulted in his founding the United Farm Workers Union clinic in Salinas, Calif., and in his involvement with numerous struggles for farmworker rights, friends and colleagues said.
"Doc loved a good fight," said Don Gomez, a close friend for 36 years. "He fought for prisoners, alcoholics, addicts, farmworkers - whomever nobody else liked, Doc took special care of." He was perhaps best known as personal physician to King during the civil rights march from Selma, Ala., to Birmingham in 1965, and for giving health advice to farmworker-advocate Cesar Chavez during his hunger strikes.
Lackner served as head of the California Department of Health Services under former Gov. Jerry Brown. Lackner used his vast knowledge on addiction and alcoholism to found the William D. Silkworth Fund for the advanced study and treatment of addictive disorders.
"Doc was not about blame," Gomez said. "Doc was about, 'Where do we go from here?' " The last months of his life were frustrating for Lackner, Gomez said. The independence and tirelessness that had propelled him his entire lifetime faltered along with his health, and he was forced to use a walker or a wheelchair to get around.
That dimmed neither his spirits nor his intellect, however, and according to daughter Johanna Lackner-Marx, he would jokingly insist he was "fine from the neck up." Lackner spent his last hours with his wife of 15 years, Rebecca Lackner, and several hospice nurses.
Lackner raised five children with his first wife, Dr. Yetta Lippman, and instilled in each of them a need to "heal the world," Lackner-Marx said.