The country recently honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and residents of Waltonwood Cary Parkway, a premier senior living community, are reflecting on how he influenced their lives. Gayle Fleming, a memory care resident at the community, was the first African-American woman to serve as the chief of outpatient pharmacy at Duke Outpatient Hospital. Fleming, 74, grew up in the Triangle area and left to attend college at Howard University in Washington, D.C. where she earned her pharmacy degree. She lived for several years in Washington D.C. where she met and wed her husband, Dr. Stanley Fleming, before moving back to North Carolina. While at Duke, she returned to night school to earn MBA and MHA degrees. She always tried to increase her knowledge to better serve people. When she faced challenges throughout her 32-year career at Duke, she would always ask herself what King would do in a similar situation. She retired about eight years ago and moved into Waltonwood Cary Parkway four years ago.
“Gayle had a wonderful career, but it came with many challenges,” said her husband Dr. Stanley Fleming. “After high school she applied to a local college for her undergraduate degree, but she was told they didn’t allow people like her to attend their school. A politician wrote a letter to Gayle telling her to apply to a different institution like Howard University, so she did, and the state paid for it. Several years later when I was offered a job in North Carolina, she was reluctant to come back, but she did it for me. Being an African-American woman in power at Duke Hospital was difficult for her at times, but she really held fast to Dr. King’s approach of loving your enemy. His legacy influenced her career and will continue to influence others for many generations.”
Gayle was an advocate herself for many years. She was involved with The Links, Incorporated, a not-for-profit organization that consists of thousands of women committed to enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African-Americans. During her time with the organization, she helped the underprivileged. It was her mission to promote equality and be a voice for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. Gayle involved herself in organizations that King believed in. She passed on her work ethic and dedication to her two children who have succeeded in their own fields as a lawyer and surgeon.
“I was there for Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in Washington, D.C.,” said Fleming. “Gayle wasn’t able to attend, but the message resonated with her. She had her own dream to be a successful African-American woman in the pharmacy field, and she did that. She really followed his approach and passed it down to our own children. Through her work with different nonprofits and in the pharmacy field, she accomplished her dream. Celebrating Dr. King is an honor to us, and we look forward to it each year.”
“Gayle is a fantastic woman who accomplished many things during her career,” said Richard Mabe, executive director at Waltonwood Cary Parkway. “Whatever she put her mind to she could achieve, and that is evident with her successful pharmacy career and her involvement with many organizations. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. influenced many of our residents and associates, and we are honored to recognize that each year. We enjoy hearing the different personal stories from each of the residents who call Waltonwood Cary Parkway home.”