Family of Black doctor who delivered Kamala Harris reflects on his legacy

As Kamala Harris gets ready to make history as the country’s first female, Black and South Asian vice president, her story is resonating with a Bay Area family whose connection to Harris started in the 1960s.

Wendy Driver-Guinn and her brother Brad Driver discussed the legacy of their father, Dr. Maynard Douglas Driver, who delivered Harris at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland on October 20, 1964.

The family see parallels between their father and Harris, from achievements to valuing hard work, public service, and having compassion for others.

Driver was one of the first Black OB-GYNs in the Bay Area. Harris is the country's first Black female vice president. Driver attended medical school at Howard University decades before Harris would graduate from the same college.

Family of Oakland doctor recalls the birth of Kamala Harris

"When my dad became a doctor and was going through medical school at Howard, it was very difficult for people of color to pursue those opportunities," Brad Driver said.

After starting his residency in Nyack, New York, Driver moved his family from the East coast to Oakland. He made a switch from Psychiatry to Obstetrics and Gynecology because he wanted something more joyful. After a short time with Kaiser, Driver started his own private practice with an office above the former Lyckberg Pharmacy at the corner of Telegraph and Webster in Berkeley.

But being a Black OG-GYN in the 1960’s wasn’t without challenges.

"He would literally have his surgeries bumped in favor of a white doctor," Driver-Guinn said. "Sometimes my father would have three surgeries in the middle of the night."

She said favored nurses were taken off his shift. He worked twice as hard to earn respect and set a path for Black doctors who followed him. He ultimately became Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cowell Hospital at Cal Berkeley. It’s known now as University Health Services, Tang Center.

"Even his white counterparts would tell him… especially in that Alta Bates, Herrick network, that he was so brilliant that had he been white he would have achieved a whole other level of recognition," Driver-Guinn said.

Driver didn't share those stories with his family until he neared the end of his life. He passed in 1989 from prostate cancer. Brad recalls their father teaching them that despite any trials and obstacles in life, they could always turn things into a better situation with hard work, persistence, perseverance and compassion.

"He said he never wanted us to feel like we couldn't achieve anything we wanted to," Driver-Guinn said. "He was just so ahead of his time because he just believed women were so capable, so intelligent, and really wanted to see them gain the opportunities that any man would have."

Harris’ mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, remained a regular patient of Dr. Driver over the years. He also delivered her second daughter Maya. After Driver’s death, Shyamala Harris sent a letter to Driver’s wife letting her know that not only was he a great doctor, but a great person. It was one of the many stories and notes they received from his former patients.

The family says the letter is a testament to their parents who always valued giving back to the community and why watching Harris make history this week resonates so much with them.

"To see this happen in the highest level of public service, Wendy and I and our parents grandkids, we take enormous pride in that legacy," Driver said.

The family said their father would give a standing ovation to Harris if he could see accomplishment now. A story of one person breaking barriers to another.

"I think he would be so proud… if he were sitting there on inauguration day watching this on TV," Driver-Guinn said.