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Onyekwere E. Akwari, M.D., 1942-2019

Dr. Onyekwere E. Akwari, Nigerian-American and first African-American surgeon on the faculty of Duke University, died at his home in Durham, North Carolina on April 14, 2019 at the age of 76.

Recruited to Duke faculty by Dr. David C. Sabiston Jr., Dr. Akwari was highly esteemed for advancing the cause of both underrepresented minorities and women in the field of medicine. Notably, Dr. Akwari organized the first meeting for the Society of Black Academic Surgeons in 1989.

Dr. Akwari was a trailblazer in his field as well as a compassionate physician for his patients and a dedicated mentor. He brought vision and confident persistence paired with an engaging, low-key temperament to his research and clinical work, to his citizenship in his university, and to his participation in the American and international surgical communities. Speaking of his dual role as a clinician and an academic, Dr. Akwari said, "It provided the privilege of teaching, operating, and researching, with the possibility of using one to support the other."

Despite the fact that his surgical career was cut short after 17 years by illness, he published over 150 articles and book chapters, presented research at 73 national and international medical meetings, served for 15 years on Duke's Medical School admissions committee, and for 12 years on Duke's faculty governance Academic Council. He served on Duke's Athletic Council and enjoyed close relationships with the coaches of women's and men's basketball, football, and wrestling. He was keenly interested in facilitating the studies of Division I athletes who aspired to medical careers. He opened his home to all, most importantly to students, and he hosted gatherings for other "first" African Americans at Duke.

During his life, Dr. Akwari met the fair and unfair challenges of a being a minority surgeon by holding steadfast to his father's belief that "all human beings breathe free air, thus, no human being is bigger or better than you are, because all are the same."