“The best way to understand New York’s Black upper class is to study its origins,” Dr. R. Chester Redhead told author Lawrence Otis Graham. And another way was to study Dr. Redhead’s life, from his priceless Rolls-Royce to the large wine cellar in one of his homes in Scarsdale. But there was much more to this great dentist, and it can be seen and it flows from the mouths of his many patients. Dr. Redhead died Dec. 2 in Florida, according to a notice from the officers and board of directors of the New York County Dental Society. He was 92.
When Dr. Redhead was interviewed by Graham it was for his book “Our Kind of People—Inside America’s Black Upper Class” (HarperCollins, 1999). Graham could not have chosen a better guide in his study, and he extended his praise to Dr. Redhead. “The original Black groups in New York are really from Harlem and from Brooklyn,” Dr. Redhead added to his opening comment.
Other than being a native of Harlem, there is not much information about his early years, but Dr. Redhead was glad to relate his devotion to Howard University, to which he said he owes much gratitude. “I went to college and dental school there,” he told Graham. “I met my wife, Gladys, there, right in front of Frazier Hall.” He said his sons attended Howard and he wished more people would show their appreciation for the school and what it has done over the years.
“We cannot rely on the government or anyone else to keep it going,” he added.
From 1953 until his retirement in 2012, Dr. Redhead depended on a large and loyal clientele, and his office on 135th Street was as much a landmark as the nearby historic Walk of Fame.
Beyond the dental chair, Dr. Redhead was a key figure in the Harlem community and elsewhere, particularly as president of the Howard University Alumni Association and president of the New York Society of Forensic Dentists. The list of organizations and institutions of which he was a member is much too extensive to list here.
“Dr. Chester Redhead was one of New York’s most prominent health advocates and Harlem’s most prominent dentists,” said Lloyd Williams, CEO of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce. “He was renowned for his advocacy of civil rights and for the continued growth and development of his beloved Harlem. We are proud that he served on the board of directors and co-chaired the Chamber’s health committee along with the late, great Dr. Muriel Petioni.”
Williams continued, “Known for his famous wit and wisdom, which always brought a smile and thought to those on the receiving end, Chester will be remembered for his numerous contributions.”
And he will be remembered by thousands of others who had a chance to experience his generosity and good wishes.
Dr. Redhead is survived by his wife, Gladys, and his sons, Raymond and Charles. His son, Chester Jr., predeceased him.
A memorial service will be held for him Monday, Dec. 18, at 10 a.m. at St. Philips Episcopal Church, 204 W. 134th St. in Harlem.