Dorotha Stubblefield, 1934-2014: Public health leader of lab aided church


Dorotha Stubblefield, 79, whose interest in how things work spurred a career in science and public health, died Tuesday in ProMedica Toledo Hospital after a brief illness.

Mrs. Stubblefield of South Toledo retired in 1987 as director of the public health laboratory for what was then the Toledo Health Department, her daughter, Cheryl Durst, said.

About 30 years earlier, Mrs. Stubblefield was a recent biology graduate of Tennessee State University and new to Toledo when she became a health department bacteriologist.

She was particularly interested in the causes and effects of sickle cell anemia, a blood condition that in the United States is most common among black people.

“She liked to solve mysteries,” her daughter said.

Mrs. Stubblefield didn't leave those traits behind when she left the lab.

“She paid attention to detail. She was a very intelligent person,” said Julia Holt, a longtime friend.

The health department largely dealt with lower income patients, her daughter said, and Mrs. Stubblefield practiced health-care management long before it was a phrase in common use. She was an advocate for teaching pregnant women to take their vitamins. She knew even a simple red blood-cell count could paint a picture of a person’s condition.

“She was a large proponent of people taking care of their health before they needed to,” her daughter said. “She understood that when it came to health, so many things tied together.”

She was born July 3, 1934, in Murray, Ky., to Adelle and Noxie Johnson.

Science seemed a logical pursuit, and university study an obvious step.

“From a very young age, she was avidly serious about how things work,” her daughter said. “She grew up in a very educated family. In middle-class African-Americans, education was always seen as the key to success.”

Some encouraged her to be a nurse, “because that's typically what women did,” her daughter said. “She liked to be behind the microscope and the problem-solving aspect of science. She told me, ‘In science there are always absolute answers.’”

She and her husband, Rob, married Sept. 8, 1956, in Toledo, where he’d been hired as a teacher. He retired as a principal from Toledo Public Schools.

Her chief avocation became community service. She was a former member of Mount Zion Baptist Church. At United Missionary Baptist Church, where she was a founding member, she was a deaconess and served on the board of Christian education. With the women’s ministry, she regularly tutored children and helped serve food at Family House, a shelter on Indiana Avenue.

“She wanted to make a difference and thought we all could help each other. In fact, we must,” Mrs. Holt said. “She was such a lovable person — gentle, kind, all of those characteristics you look for in a friend.”

Mrs. Stubblefield was a charter member of the Toledo alumnae chapter of her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, and a charter member of the Toledo chapter of Charms Inc. Through the Christ Child Society, she was a volunteer literacy tutor.

“That was her manner,” said Jeanette Bradley, a longtime friend, “She called herself a servant of God, and as a servant, she served the people.”

Her husband died Jan. 15, 1996.

Surviving are her daughter, Cheryl Durst; brother, Perry Johnson; sister, Marjorie Anthony, and three grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 4-8 p.m. today in the Dale-Riggs Funeral Home.

Funeral services will be at noon Saturday in United Missionary Baptist Church, with wake services at 11 a.m.

The family suggests tributes to the Christ Child Society.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.