Dr. Roland Pattillo, 89, Champion for the Provider of ‘Immortal’ Cells, Dies

Roland Anthony Pattillo was born on June 12, 1933, in DeQuincy, La. His mother, Rhena (Shaw) Pattillo, was a homemaker; his father, Anthony Pattillo, was a steelworker.

Roland earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically Black Roman Catholic institution in New Orleans, and his medical degree from Saint Louis University, in 1959. He completed a fellowship in gynecologic oncology at Johns Hopkins under Dr. Gey in 1967 and did his residency at Marquette University Medical School, now the Medical College of Wisconsin. He stayed on there for the next three decades as a lecturer, researcher and practitioner until joining Morehouse in the early 1990s. He retired in 2013.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Pattillo is survived by his children, Catherine, Mary and Patrick Pattillo and Sheri Pattillo Johnson; his stepson, Todd Thomas, who is called Speech; a sister, Carolyn Pattillo Davis; and eight grandchildren. An earlier marriage, to Marva Parks, ended in divorce.

When Henrietta Lacks died, she was buried in the Lacks family gravesite in Clover. But she had no gravestone or marker. In 2010, Dr. Pattillo and Ms. O’Flynn Pattillo raised the funds to buy her one, a pink granite slab carved in the shape of a book. The inscription reads, in part: “Here lies Henrietta Lacks (HeLa). Her immortal cells will continue to help mankind forever.”

“He put our family on the map,” said Shirley Lacks, one of Mrs. Lacks’s daughters-in-law. “If Dr. Pattillo hadn’t talked to Deborah, and Deborah hadn’t talked to Rebecca, the family would not have known as much about Henrietta’s life and her contributions to mankind. I thank Dr. Pattillo for just being there, especially for Deborah. He had a very calming spirit, but he was firm in his belief.”