Gilbert Rutledge Mason Sr. was born on October 7, 1928 at home in Jackson, Mississippi. Named after English explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert and early American politician John Rutledge, he was the third and last child of Willie Atwood Mason and Alean Jackson Mason, following eldest child Willie Louis Mason and sister Rozelia Mason (later Stamps).
He was a preternaturally curious and insightful child and a voracious reader. Throughout his early life, he excelled academically in grammar school, and also excitedly achieved success in Boy Scouting. It was while in junior high that he discovered a penchant for medicine and the healing arts.
During his tenure at Lanier High School, he was a champion debater, played football and lettered in swimming, and served as the Art Director of the Maroon and White yearbook.
In 1943, he became only the second black Mississippian to earn the rank of Eagle Scout.
He graduated from Lanier in 1945 at the tender age of 16, and enrolled at Tennessee State University in Nashville, having been rewarded several merit scholarships.
During his freshman year, he met and fell in love with Natalie Lorraine Hamlar of Roanoke, VA, who he courted while pursing a dual degree in chemistry and biology with a minor in math. He became a member of the Beta Omicron chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. A textbook Renaissance man, Mason also served as editor-in-chief on The Tennessean yearbook for two years, served as class president in student government all four years, and also spent two years on the TSU swim team.
He graduated with high distinction in 1949 and then pursued a Doctor of Medicine degree at Howard University in Washington DC. Prior to matriculation, he worked as a collector in the 1950 United States Census and worked during the summers in Chicago. Gilbert and Natalie were married in Roanoke on July 29, 1950 and settled into newlywed life as graduate students in the Shaw neighborhood.
While at Howard, he served as student body representative for the School of Medicine, and audited classes in various disciplines, taking full advantage of being enrolled at "the Mecca", the zenith of Black academia of the era.
He graduated from Howard with honors in 1954, the same year he and Natalie welcomed their only child, Gilbert Rutledge, Jr.
Shortly after graduation, Mason embarked on a year-long internship at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, one of the foremost post-graduate training institutions for African-American physicians. He began pursuing the specialty of family medicine and also took it upon himself to gain training in general surgery, which would make him a more versatile physician during his career.
Determined to make his home back in his native state, Dr. Mason identified a practice on the Gulf Coast in Biloxi that he could make his own. He, Natalie, and Gilbert Jr. moved there in 1955 and he established his medical practice in East Biloxi. He became affiliated with the Biloxi Hospital (later known as Howard Memorial Hospital), obtaining hospital privileges, but due to segregative policies was limited to courtesy staff status from 1955 to 1966. In 1967, he was conferred full staff privileges. He also proudly earned certification as a Diplomate of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Later, he would become a member of the MS State Board of Health, licensing State Board of Medical Examiners, and was selected to several leadership positions on the medical staffs of Biloxi Regional Medical Center, Select Specialty Hospital, and Gulf Coast Medical Center. His private practice on Division Street in Biloxi was a sanctuary for many people in the Black community, and he delivered most, if not all, of the babies in the Black community for more than two decades.
Dr. Mason also served for many years as contract physician for the US Public Health Service, caring for fishermen and their families, and for members of the Merchant Marine.
He was well respected throughout the local and state medical community for his thoughtful fidelity to his patients, as well as his tenacity in ensuring all of them received optimal medical care. In 1974, he was a featured speaker at the 1974 Howard University College of Medicine commencement, which coincided with his 20 year anniversary, speaking to the work of "The Brave Young Physicians". He continued house calls until the mid-1990's, and only slowed down after a December 1997 stroke made it more challenging to continue his practice.
Dr. Mason retired in spring 2002 to much acclaim for his near half-century of service by patients, fellow physicians, city leaders, and other parters in his work to achieve equitable access to health care.
After his wife of 49 years passed away in 1999, Dr. Mason focused most of his time on his practice and his remaining commitments in the community.
Chief among them were his efforts to have the Mississippi state flag changed via referendum in 2002, which proved unsuccessful.
He remained active in the state leadership of the Mississippi NAACP, Sigma Phi Psi honor fraternity, and his beloved Alpha Phi Alpha, as well as with his church, First Missionary Baptist on Esters Blvd.
He also remained active with the Mississippi State Board of Archives and History.
Dr. Mason suffered a debilitating second stroke in February 2005, and, after many months of rehabilitation, passed away on July 8, 2006.