Dr. Roland Herman Bruner, born on March 7, 1902 in Burkittsville, Maryland, served Arlington County for over 40 years. He should be remembered not only for his commitment to medicine and generosity to the community and his patients, but also for overcoming the limitations set forth by racism and segregation.
In the mid-1920s, Bruner left Burkittsville to attend Storer College in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. After completing a two-yer junior-college program, he continued his education at Howard University, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1928. At the time, options for prospective African-American medical students were limited, with only Meharry Medical College and Howard University training the majority of black doctors. In 1932, Dr. Bruner graduated from Howard University College of Medicine. He was one of 24 students distinguished with an internship in Freedmen's Hospital, in Washington, D.C. Freedmen's Hospital played a critical role in providing specialty training since few white hospitals admitted black interns and a limited number of black hospitals trained post-graduates. He joined the staff of Freedmen's Hospital after completion of his internship. From 1935 to 1951, Dr. Bruner was a part-time member of the clinical faculty of Howard University College of Medicine, serving first as a Clinical Assistant
before his promotion to Clinical Instructor. He specialized and lectured in obstetrics and gynecology.
In 1934, Dr. Bruner opened a private practice in his newly built brick home on South Glebe Road in the Nauck neighborhood of Arlington. He filled a desparate local need for African-American physicians since few were practicing within the County. He offered general medical services to the community, but specialized in obstetrics. He was instrumental in establishing a Planned Parenthood clinic for Arlington's Department of Human Resources, and in assisting African-American women in acquiring birth control and contraceptives. In addition, Dr. Bruner often made house calls to deliver babies. In 1938, he was the only African-American doctor employed by Arlington County's Health Department in the prenatal clinics. Since African-Americans were not allowed to utilize the Clarendon Health Center, Dr. Bruner held prenatal clinics in "special clinic rooms" located at the former Arlington Court House.
Dr. Bruner's notable professional achievements were only a small part of his legacy. He was an unassuming and selfless family man who committed himself to serving others regardless of financial gain. During the Great Depression and World War II, he bartered with patients and declined payment from those who could not afford medical services. He continued to serve the Nauck community until a week before his death on May 9, 1978. Dr. Bruner's legacy is continued by his daughter, Dr. Denise Ellen Bruner, a graduate of Howard University College of Medicine, who also opened a practice in Arlington.
In 2001, Arlington Housing Corporation (AHC) purchased Dr. Bruner's home and its land from his family. The original house remains and is now part of the Bruner Place development that includes seven contemporary townhouses.