Dr. Frank Sessoms was beloved as a person, a mentor, a supporter of Black higher education and of Pittsburgh’s jazz scene, but he was revered as a physician who served countless Pittsburgh residents over the years.
Dr. Sessoms passed away at home, July 22. He was 70.
USAF Col. Harlan Ware, ret. who now operates the Gus Trent Rodeo out of Plant City, Fla., grew up in Pittsburgh and was a fraternity brother of Dr. Sessoms. He recalled Dr. Sessoms as generous to a fault, funny and a brilliant man.
“He was always himself, he made no bones about it,” said Col. Ware. “I remember we were in a bakery one time and he was staring at a case and he said, ‘It all looks so good. I’ll have one of everything’—and he did.”
Dr. Sessoms was a large man, who weighed well over 300 pounds. And while he had a large appetite for life, he had a larger heart, said Col. Ware.
“He never forgot about the everyday folks. He was always out and about patronizing establishments in the Black community, supporting them. I remember when I was running an Urban Boy Scout Troop in East Liberty, if we needed anything, Frank was there. When I needed stuff to take them on camping trips, Frank said get them whatever they need, and I’ll take care of it—and he did that too.”
One time as he was visiting his office, a woman was leaving, and he heard Dr. Sessoms say she needed to lose 30 pounds. He said she looked askance at him. He said, “Remember, you’re paying me to tell you what’s best for you.”
Dr. Sessoms graduated from Aliquippa High School before attending Tennessee State University. After graduating from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., in 1974, he served as an intern and resident at UPMC St. Margaret’s Hospital before opening his own office in East Liberty. Dr. Sessoms served Pittsburgh’s medical needs for more than 30 years, specializing in pain management.
As well-known and beloved as he was in the Black community, it made no difference one night in more than 20 years ago in the mid-1990s when he was leaving the Too Sweet Lounge in Homewood. A man tried to rob him. Dr. Sessoms told him to get lost, and the man shot him in both legs.
But he still maintained his humor about it said Ware.
“I went to see him at the hospital and asked what happened, and Frank looked at me and said, ‘Oh I was beating his behind so bad he had to shoot me,’” he said.
Those injuries, and his size, forced Dr. Sessoms to use a scooter much of the time afterwards, but he still made his hospital rounds, and saw patients until a fall in 2010 resulted in a broken hip and forced him to close his practice.
Classic Events owner Ralph Watson said Dr. Sessoms was not only a great doctor, but a great person.
“He was my doctor starting from when I was an undergrad at Pitt. He’d give it too you straight, but he was compassionate, He had a personality too, he could joke with staff and still say what you have to focus on,” said Watson.
“He touched a lot of lives. He gave back to the community—he never hesitated to write a check and he mentored a lot of people. Medicine was his passion but giving back was what he did. That’s what made him.”
An obituary provided to the New Pittsburgh Courier said that Dr. Sessoms was a voted Minority Physician of the Year by Gateway Medical Society, member of the National Medical Association, Life Member of the NAACP, National Urban League, the FROGS Social Club (Pittsburgh), Life Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc, former member of the Meharry Medical College Board of Trustees (13 years), President Meharry National Alumni Association and member of the Tennessee State University National Alumni Association and Life Member TSU Big Blue Club.
Dr. Sessoms was the son of the late Frank L. and Catherine Sessoms; survived by his wife of 30 years, Sandra (Scalise) Sessoms; siblings, Carol Brownder, Furmin (Sharon), Vincent (Cynthia) Sessoms, Gloria (Lee) Davis, Norphas (Rita) Sessoms, Dennis, Anthony, Dwight and Mary Catherine Sessoms.
Visitation will be at. 2 to 4 p.m., and 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, July 27, at Lawrence T. Miller Funeral Home, 460 Lincoln Ave., in Bellevue. Additional visitation will be held at Triedstone Baptist Church, 503 Washington St., Aliquippa, from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. Saturday, July 28. Funeral services will follow at 11 a.m. July 28 at Triedstone.
Interment will be private at Christ Our Redeemer Cemetery, Ross Township. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions are suggested to Meharry Medical College, Gift Management Services, 1005 Dr. D. B. Todd, Jr. Blvd., Nashville, TN 37208.
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