Herbert Lerner, 95

Pediatrician and racial justice advocate


Dr. Herbert Lerner (Contributed photo)
Herbert Irving “Herb” Lerner, a longtime Hyde Park pediatrician and advocate for racial justice, died Aug. 21 at his home at the age of 95.

Lerner and his wife, Ruth, who died in 2012, practiced medicine together for 54 years, treating three generations of children before they retired in 2006.

Born in Chicago in 1923, Lerner grew up on the West Side, the 9th of 10 children. He attended Gregory Elementary School, 3715 W. Polk St., and Marshall High School, 3250 W. Adams St.

He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and became a radio operator on transport planes. After the war, his sister encouraged him to become a doctor. He finished at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in three years.

He became a racial justice advocate in college, joining the Student Community Interracial Group and protesting the discrimination of African American students who were not allowed to eat in local restaurants, picketing participating in sit-ins. Their efforts led the local office of the State’s Attorney to enforce an existing 1883 law that prohibited discrimination in public places.

Lerner entered the University of Illinois College of Medicine in 1947. There he met Ruth Geyer, a fellow medical student, who had emigrated from Czechoslovakia after the Allies liberated the country in 1945. They married in 1950 and settled in Hyde Park because of its racial and economic diversity.

They established a practice in the Hyde Park Bank Building, 1525 E. 53rd St. At the time, doctors in the building saw White patients every day but African Americans only one day a week. The Lerners saw African American patients every day of the week and made house calls until they retired.

During the 1960s and 1970s, they held fundraisers for many civil rights causes. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Angela Davis and other activists visited their Kenwood home. Lerner was a Fellow of the American Board of Pediatrics, a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society and an active member of the Committee to End Discrimination.

He is survived by three children, Claude Lerner and partner Elaine Waite, Peter Lerner and wife Naoko and Heidi Lerner Rearden and husband Nick; four grandchildren, Camille and Luke Rearden and Jasmine Matthew Lerner; sister Pearl Rose; nephew Donald Rose, and many nieces, cousins, family members and friends.

A memorial service will be held to celebrate on Saturday, Oct. 12, at 1 p.m. at the SGI Buddhist Culture Center, 1455 S. Wabash Ave. Donations to the SGI Buddhist Cultural Center, 312-913-1211, or to WFMT or WTTW, 773-583-5000, 5400 N. St. Louis Ave., are requested in lieu of flowers.