Colleagues Honor Departed Texas Legend Dr. 'Red' Duke
HOUSTON - If the role were ever to exist, Red Duke would no doubt be dubbed the state doctor of Texas.
The mustachioed trauma surgeon from Hillsboro came to medicine by way of Aggie Land, a war time tank command and divinity school.
As fate would have it, the surgical resident fought to save both a president and a wounded Governor John Connally on a terrible November day in Dallas.
In the years that followed it would be Houston where Duke would make his most lasting mark.
"He really defined trauma care in this country and put it on the map," said Tom Flanagan, Chief Operating Officer of Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and a 29 year colleague of Duke's.
It was a level of care delivered with equal parts precision, innovation and compassion.
"Dr. Duke cared deeply about people," said Craig Cordola who worked alongside Duke and now serves as Regional President of Memorial Hermann Health System.
Duke cared so much he became obsessed with getting patients life preserving treatment more quickly.
"He talked the hospital into giving it a try, because nobody else wanted to do it," said longtime Duke friend and colleague Erik von Wenckstern, a helicopter pilot.
It was 1972 and the result was Life Flight, Duke's abiding passion for the next four decades.
"He was like a Dad to me," said von Wenckstern, who has served on Life Flight choppers since 1981.
It was trust and affection extending to millions with the launch of Duke's pioneering broadcast heath care segments.
With his trademark drawl and humor, he taught, using terms and commonsensical explanations that made medical knowledge refreshingly accessible to audiences here and across the country.
"He was a genuine person who believed in what he had to say," said Wenckstern.
And what Red Duke "said" almost certainly saved more lives than his highly regarded skill with a scalpel.
"I don't feel like we really fully understand the legacy of Dr. Duke yet. I think it's going to take some time for that to be fully appreciated. There will not be another Doctor Duke. That's not possible," said Cordola.