Ernest Bates Jr.

Obituary Reports the death of an individual, providing an account of the person’s life including their achievements, any controversies in which they were involved, and reminiscences by people who knew them.

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Ernest Bates Jr.

Acclaimed neurosurgeon, entrepreneur, philanthropist and former Peekskill native Dr. Ernest A. Bates Jr. passed away peacefully at his home in Napa, Calif. on Mar. 19.

Bates was born Dec. 7, 1936, in Valhalla to Ernest A. Bates Sr. and Sally Dabbs Bates. He was raised and educated in Peekskill and graduated from Peekskill High School in 1954. He was baptized at Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Peekskill. While a student at Peekskill High School, he was a member of the football team.

Dr. Bates entered Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore where he pursued his bachelor’s degree in biology on a full academic scholarship. During his time there, Baltimore was a segregated city. Most Black students lived off campus. But Dr. Bates lived on campus and recounted that he was initially disappointed to discover that he hadn’t been assigned a roommate – an effort by the administration to avoid any discrimination he or his roommates might have encountered from other students on the floor.

Such concerns were unfounded. Dr. Bates soon heard from 20 students who eagerly volunteered to be his roommate. Rather than accept, he turned his room into a haven for Black students from Baltimore, giving them a place to meet, leave their books, have lunch between classes or even sleep over the night before a big exam, a practice he kept up during his four years at Hopkins, even when he later had roommates.

In addition to his academic studies, he was a prominent member of the football and track teams. Because of his exceptional skill on the football team, the then-Baltimore Colts hoped to draft him, but his mom knew being a doctor was more productive than being a professional football player. At the time of segregation and Jim Crow laws, he was refused restaurant service when he traveled with his football team for games. His teammates walked out in solidarity with their friend.

He was a trailblazer and entrepreneur from the beginning. He and his lifelong friend, John (Jack) Ruffle, managed the hot dog concession in between their busy schedules.

Upon his graduation from Johns Hopkins, he received a full scholarship from the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry, and in 1963 completed an internship at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx Municipal Hospital Center. He then joined the United States Air Force and served in Japan for three years.

Following his military service, where he was honorably discharged, Dr. Bates completed his neurosurgery residency in 1971 at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), becoming one of three Black board-certified neurosurgeons in the United States. He continued his neurosurgical medical practice in San Francisco until 2020, when he moved to Napa full-time.

In 1977, Dr. Bates founded American Share Hospital Services (ASHS) and became one of the first African Americans to take a company public. He remained the ASHS CEO, a company that provides cutting-edge surgical equipment and innovative medical technology to North and South America and parts of Eastern Europe, until he retired in 2020. He served as an executive director until his death. He also served on the UCSF School of Nursing Board of Overseers, as well as the Board of Governors for the California Community Colleges.

As a patron of the arts, he also served for many years as a San Francisco Ballet Board trustee. He established the Ernest Bates Foundation in 2004 to support nonprofit healthcare organizations serving African American and Latino communities, a cause close to his heart. The foundation created the Sally Bates Endowed Chair in Health Disparities at the UCSF School of Nursing in honor of his mother, who at age 70 returned to school to become a licensed vocational nurse after having worked for years as a matron.

In the mid-1980s, Dr. Bates was a guest speaker at Mount Olivet Baptist Church where he donated offering funds meant for him to the youth choir. He then made a generous contribution to the church he grew up in and where his mother was an active church member.

In 1996, he was inducted into the Peekskill High School Hall of Honor.

In 1998, he founded Bates Creek Vineyards in Napa Valley, and later rebranded the label under Black Coyote Chateau with his original partners and friends Jack Ruffle and Stan Trotman, making Dr. Bates one of the first Black vintners in the country. That same year he received the prestigious Kjakan Award for his contribution to the spirit of entrepreneurial capitalism. Dr. Bates was a founding member of the African American Vintners Association.

Dr. Bates earned numerous distinctions and honors and served on the boards for many prestigious public and private organizations, including Shared Imaging and Apollo Medical. In 2003, he was honored with the Heritage Award, granting him trustee emeritus status at Johns Hopkins University. In 2005, he was elected to the California Commission for Jobs and Economic Growth. In 2011, the Peekskill City Council recognized him as one of five African American community members for their accomplishments during Black History Month. In 2012, Dr. Bates was awarded with the Deans Medal by the University of Rochester.

He was recognized in 2021 at the Johns Hopkins commencement ceremony with an honorary degree, the university’s highest honor. Chosen as one of the university’s four pioneering historic figures, one of the two Charles Commons resident halls that opened in 2006 was named Bates Hall in his honor. As an active leader, he spent two decades as a trustee for both the University of Rochester and Johns Hopkins. He also was a cabinet member as well as the Capital Campaign chairman and a founding board member of the Museum of African Diaspora in San Francisco.

Dr. Bates served as a board member of the Center for FasterCures-Milken Institute, as a member of the Brookings Institution, as a San Francisco Bay Regional Cabinet member and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Salzburg Global Seminar.

In 1997, the California state Senate appointed him to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, and in 2005, he was appointed to the California Commission for Jobs and Economic Growth. Additionally, he served on the board of Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food, & the Arts.

Dr. Bates was also a founding member of the Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity-Beta Upsilon Boule chartered in San Francisco in July 1983. Before that he was inducted into the Alpha Gamma chapter of the Boule in Oakland.

He had an enormous amount of love for his family. His passing is a great loss to the family and to the world and the many lives he touched.

Dr. Bates is survived by his best friend and wife, Kathryn Ann McMorrow Bates, of Napa; sons Ernest R. Bates of Annapolis, Calif. and Paul S. Bates of Peekskill; by his grandchildren, Ernest, Alexander and Helena Bates; his loving cousins, Vera Smith and Renee Smith Leisengang; and other relatives and friends.

Contributions in Dr. Bates’ honor may be made to Johns Hopkins and Rochester universities and/or the University of California, San Francisco.

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