Harry Hazelwood III in the Cornell Law School Library.

77 years apart, son of early Black law grad seeks his own degree

After decades of success as a doctor who worked alongside world leaders responding to catastrophes, Harry Hazelwood III – now in his late 60s – is seeking a master’s degree from Cornell Law School.

The reason, he says, involves a rebellious streak, a life dashing around the globe and a yearning to more fully understand one of his father’s most transformative life experiences.

“I always wanted to pave my own way, but my father always wanted me to go to Cornell and go into law,” said Hazelwood, whose father, Harry Jr., graduated in 1945 as the ninth Black student at Cornell Law School. “And I adamantly fought both and went into medicine at Northwestern.”

Now, Hazelwood works as a preventive medicine pediatrician in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Growing up, he often heard about his father’s time living in Ithaca.

As the only Black Cornell law student in his class, “my father was the subject of a lot of racism,” Hazelwood said. He had to continuously prove his worth, and making ends meet was no easy feat, despite a partial scholarship.

“He was the first in his family to go to college, so he didn’t have much money,” Hazelwood said. “He was able to eat in the dining hall because that was one of the gratuities that came with washing the dishes at Willard Straight. And then he got a job at the Cornell Law Library, so he was able to use the books without buying them. He was an ingenious person, really, when it came to knowing how to survive.”

Initially, his father found a place to stay with the late Professor John W. MacDonald, who was the chairman of the New York State Law Revision Commission and a professor emeritus of law at Cornell. Though he moved to a different apartment his second year, MacDonald remained a mentor and close friend of the family.

“Growing up, I knew him as Uncle John,” Hazelwood said. “After my dad graduated, they became lifelong friends.”

Hazelwood’s father remained intensely connected to Cornell throughout his life and served as the president of the Cornell Law School Alumni Association.

“He always had a number of projects that he did over the next 62 years,” Hazelwood said, “whether that was raising money or helping other Black students get accepted, so they would be able to partake in the trail that he had blazed.”

His father felt strongly that his son should see where he had made his start, too. Hazelwood regularly accompanied his father on trips upstate from their home in New Jersey. His first Ithaca memory was of seeing Uncle John’s house and that small apartment.

“I spent so much time there growing up,” Hazelwood said. “Ithaca became a second home to me.”

Yet after Hazelwood graduated from Northwestern in 1976, he continued on to Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University. After completing his postdoctoral studies in 1989, he was eager to make a name in his own right – and his career in medicine took him far from this second home.

Kofi Annan, the former secretary-general of the United Nations, became a mentor to Hazelwood after a chance meeting in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital while he was finishing his postdoctoral studies. From there, Hazelwood went to Geneva to work with the World Health Organization.

“All of a sudden, you’re sitting across from Barack Obama with a microphone in Palais de Nations, and he’s appealing to your expertise,” Hazelwood said.

For 20 years, Hazelwood handled the logistics of urgent catastrophic situations that dispatched him across the world. ​​

”I covered the tsunami in Bangkok, the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and Katrina in 2005,” Hazelwood said. “In emergency preparedness and disaster response, you have to think: Who needs immediate care? How many doctors are in the field? How many helicopters do we have, right now?”

But on one visit home, Hazelwood found himself in the courtroom at his father’s invitation, watching him preside as chief judge for the New Jersey Superior Court over a litigation case for the pharmaceutical industry.

“It whetted my appetite to see this intersection of medicine and law,” he said.

After Hazelwood’s father died in 2007, he felt compelled to connect with his father’s study of law in his own way. After the thought lingered in the back of his mind for several years, Hazelwood said he was “finally ready to come home.”

In 2021, he was accepted into Cornell Law School’s Master of Science in Legal Studies program. Now, a student in its second cohort, Hazelwood is completing the program in his limited spare time and is focused on statutory and compliance laws.

“In medicine, the issues we see all the time have to do with patient compliance, with rules that we set down,” he said. “I’m finding these issues in medicine and compliance issues in law go hand-in-hand – particularly with the rise of telemedicine.”

The study of law has only enhanced his work, he said, and he’s excited to bring what he’s learning back into his career.

“This program has given me a great understanding of the legal profession and an ability to really speakto the lawyers I work with – to have an intelligent, scholarly conversation about things that concern both my field and theirs,” Hazelwood said.

Jamie Bonan is a writer for eCornell.

Media Contact

Rachel Rhodes