Dr. Matthew Jenkins – veterinarian, investor, educator, author, self-made millionaire and philanthropist – will accept the Cortese Lippincott Award at the SCVMA’s Annual Celebration next month.
Dr. Jenkins, a lifetime member of SCVMA, practiced in Compton for more than 20 years. He left veterinary medicine in his 40s to launch a highly successful real estate career. In his early 80s, he returned to his alma mater, Tuskegee University, to serve as interim president for a year. He and wife Roberta established The Matthew and Roberta Jenkins Family Foundation which provides funds for programs and scholarships to help African American students. He spent three recent years writing a compelling autobiography that has been translated into many languages and is being sold around the world.
Today, he and Roberta live in a beautiful home with an ocean view in Long Beach. “I couldn’t have done all those things without her,” Dr. Jenkins said in an interview. They met at Tuskegee and have been married more than 60 years. “I’ll keep working for what I believe in for as long as I’m able,” he said. “Our greatest pleasure has always been giving back to others.”
After earning his DVM degree in 1957, Dr. Jenkins spent two years in the Air Force as a veterinary officer. He was assigned to duty in Greenland where he found that rabies was common. He fashioned a plan to eliminate the disease and implemented it successfully. Afterwards he wrote an article about his discovery. However, his superior officers “took my name and put it at the bottom and put their names at the top,” he said, “in an attempt to take credit for my work.” The young veterinarian fought back and eventually was able to submit the article for publication under his name.
After leaving the military, Dr. Jenkins moved to California, a place he had wanted to live since reading about it in magazines as a child. “California seemed to be a place that offered great beauty and extraordinary opportunities, “he said.
He started a successful practice in Compton that employed several other veterinarians. He also began to dabble in real estate. After 23 years, he sold his practice and focused on real estate, including mobile home parks in eight states.
“I decided that I could purchase mobile home park properties back east for less money than in California and eventually they would become very profitable,” he said. “I hit it right on the head. I paid $2.5 million for one property and sold it later for $14 million. And I paid $600,000 for another and sold it for $7 million.”
Looking back on his career, he said that he always wanted those who worked for him “to feel they were a part of the team. I would ask, ‘What do you think of this?’ And then I might say, ‘Maybe your idea is better than mine. Let’s use it.’ When you treat people that way, you’ll find that they are more involved and they become ambassadors for you. I tried to cultivate a culture of integrity and honesty. I gave people responsibility, asked them what they needed and what we could do to make the company more successful.”
Dr. Jenkins’ book is titled “Positive Possibilities: My Game Plan for Success.” It relates details of his early life and his career. It also lays out his formula for success.
“It took me three years to write it,” he said. “It’s strictly from the heart.” Friends had been urging him to write it for 30 years, he said. “Now they’re asking: ‘What about that next book?’” He does not plan to write that next book.
The Matthew and Roberta Jenkins Family Foundation was established in 1984 to provide financial aid for programs and scholarships to help high school and college students, with a focus on mathematics. Some of the many charitable projects that are funded include The MIND Research Institute, Claremont Graduate University, Tuskegee University, California State University Long Beach and The Math Collaborative.
The life his father lived has been Dr. Jenkins’ inspiration. “He died when I was two years old. I don’t remember him but I have always tried to follow his vision. He was the kind of person, I wanted to be.”
In 1890 in Mississippi at the age of 16, his father John Wesley Jenkins was badly beaten by the Ku Klux Klan because he had warned black farmers that the klan planned to burn their crops and take over their farms. The klansmen put Jenkins’ on a train headed south. The train conductor dumped him along the tracks where a Greek immigrant found him near death.
The immigrant’s family nursed John Wesley back to health and he started over in Alabama, becoming a prosperous and respected farmer. His farm included the most up-to-date equipment and more than two dozen houses he had built so his workers would have comfortable living quarters.
When his father died of a heart attack at 59, his mother, Amelia, and her 10 children continued to run the farm. In 1953, Ebony magazine published a story calling their home “Alabama’s Richest African American Farm Family.”
The Animal Health Foundation's Cortese – Lippincott Award was created to recognize and honor an individual who has gone above and beyond in making the world a better place for both animals and humans. The winner of this award has gone above and beyond in community service, service and education of the veterinary community and the human-animal bond.
The award was named in honor of veterinarians Larry Lippincott and Joe Cortese.