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Our Dr. Duke Stories

The Rick Smith Gallery: Our Dr. Duke

tmc duke 1Dr. James H. “Red” Duke, Jr. (1928-2015), the John B. Holmes Professor of Clinical Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School, was a dedicated physician known for his extraordinary patient care and efforts to train medical students and surgeons.

In addition to establishing trauma services at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, Duke was instrumental in developing Memorial Hermann Life Flight®, Texas’ first lifesaving air ambulance service, and served as medical director of the program for nearly four decades. A year after Duke’s passing, the Texas Medical Center joined the Greater Houston community in collectively celebrating Life Flight’s 40th anniversary, remembering the legacy of the renowned trauma surgeon and the thousands of lives he helped save.

Duke was known for transforming trauma care not just for the city of Houston but for the entire country, so in 2016 the Memorial Hermann Texas Trauma Institute was renamed the Memorial Hermann Red Duke Trauma Institute in his honor.

Often described as “larger than life,” Duke’s trademark bottle-brush mustache, military-issued wire-rimmed glasses, Texas twang and colorful stories – all accented with a cowboy hat and folksy humor – made him a one-of-a-kind hero. This exhibit features stories from some of Duke’s closest friends and colleagues in the Texas Medical Center who walked the hospital’s hallways with him every day. As you will see, the photographs and tokens from his legendary life are as rich as the tales told here in his memory. Duke was many things to many people, but to us he will always be Our Dr. Duke.

Andy Dearwater, Houston-area artist, painted this portrait of Dr. Duke that epitomizes his humble, country persona. The painting was unveiled at Dr. Duke’s memorial service on the Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center Campus following his passing in August 2015.

Our Founder

As told by Dr. Richard Andrassy
Professor and Chairman, Department of Surgery, McGovern Medical School at UTHealth

tmc duke 2Dr. Duke was one of the first three faculty members in our Department of Surgery at UTHealth Medical School, now McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Dr. Stanley Dudrick, the medical school’s first chairman of surgery, recruited Dr. Duke from Afghanistan and asked him to come to Houston. Confused by what a new medical school would see in a ‘guy from Afghanistan,’ Dr. Duke traveled the country looking for other opportunities before deciding on Houston in 1972. He credited his decision to sharing a common interest in nutritional research with Dr. Dudrick and Dr. Ted Copeland, who had joined him.

Others would believe he was just meant to be here.

You could definitely say Dr. Duke was a man who wore many hats – although his cowboy hat is probably his most memorable. He was a surgeon, minister, hunter, fisherman, television celebrity and friend. But, first and foremost, he was a teacher. It didn’t matter if he was rounding in the hospital or sharing dinner with friends and colleagues – Dr. Duke was always pontificating, always teaching.

And, boy, did he make it memorable. With a coffee cup in one hand and a spit cup in the other, Dr. Duke used to walk these halls greeting everyone he passed with a special name. He thought ‘Booger’ would be a good name for me.

That’s how it all started – our Department of Surgery, our medical school, Memorial Hermann Life Flight® and our trauma program. Dr. Duke helped make it all happen.

Dr. Duke is often remembered for his signature cowboy hat, belt buckle and cowboy boots. Photo courtesy of the Memorial Hermann archives.

Our Leader

As told by Dr. Linda Drake Coakley
Former Flight Nurse for Life Flight from 1976 to 1977

tmc duke 18Before Hermann Hospital bought its first helicopter, I was working as a nurse in the recovery room, where I first got to know Dr. Duke. Those of us working in recovery became accustomed to Dr. Duke’s surgical cases being the longest cases of the day… and there was no secret why. I remember him walking onto the floor in his scrubs, holding his hands in front of his body to prevent contamination. He would hold them there as he thoughtfully lectured on the principles of practice to the residents and interns in the operating room. It was a time-consuming lesson, but it earned him the highest respect from those who worked with him.

One day while I was working in recovery, Dr. Bill Clark, a surgical resident who worked with Dr. Duke to create what is now Memorial Hermann Life Flight®, came up from the Emergency Center to tell me that Hermann was buying a French helicopter to begin the hospital’s air ambulance service. He and Dr. Duke were handpicking nurses with trauma experience to work on the helicopter. I was so excited – and honored – to be asked.

Soon after, a contest was held to name what would become one of Dr. Duke’s most legendary accomplishments. A Houston housewife submitted the name ‘Life Flight’ into the contest and won the $100 prize. So, although we were the second air ambulance program in the nation at that time, we were the first to be named Life Flight.

While there are countless memories from my time with Life Flight, I remember one day in particular. It was hot – Houston hot – as I watched Dr. Duke walking across the sun-soaked helipad. He was in a hurry to get somewhere, probably to surgery, and his lab coat blew open as the wind caught his long strides. I heard him say to the helicopter mechanic, “Son, have you got that lawn mower running?” without cracking a smile. I laughed to myself and admired the ever serious expression of the man in whom we believed and trusted with our biggest decisions – those of life and death.

Dr. Duke speaks at the 10th anniversary of Life Flight in 1986. To his left is E. Don Walker, president of the Hermann Trust Administration; Texas Governor Mark White; and Melinda Perrin, longtime Memorial Hermann board member. Photo courtesy of the Memorial Hermann archives.

Our Advocate

As told by Dr. Bryant Boutwell
John P. McGovern Professor of Oslerian Medicine at the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics & a Distinguished Teaching Professor

tmc duke 3The year was 1986. I was sitting in the old Doctor’s Club in the Jesse Jones Library Building attending a media awards event for the Harris County Medical Society. On my right was our county coroner, Dr. Joseph Jachimczyk. On my left was an empty seat, soon filled by Dr. Red Duke who came rushing in from surgery before departing for West Texas to do some work with his conservation project to save the bighorn sheep.

I asked him what was new and he said he had been up all night stitching up a fellow whose motorcycle had met a sad end on Interstate 45. He was hopeful the patient survived. Then, spotting our coroner on the other side of my salad, Dr. Duke launched into a vivid description of the lacerations before asking the coroner, ‘Joe, you didn’t see a fellow this morning with a snake tattoo on his right arm and…’ My salad lost its taste real quick, but it was a classic Duke moment. He cared about every patient and he would not leave a patient, any patient, until he had given every ounce he had. Many a Red Duke Health Report was taped late at night, sometimes after midnight, because his patients always came first. He was truly one of a kind.

As for me, I still take a moment before starting my salad. He always seems to be sitting there to my left making sure his patient didn’t meet the coroner.

Dr. Duke addresses reporters during a media event at Hermann Hospital. Photo courtesy of the UTHealth archives.

Our Reporter

As told by Tom Eschbacher
Former Videographer/Editor for UT-TV

tmc duke 4I truly enjoy my memories of working with Dr. Duke as a videographer/editor on his health reports for nearly 10 years. He was a great talent. He never used a teleprompter on camera. He would take only a few moments to memorize his script and he was ready to record.

Over the course of 15 years, the staff of UT-TV videotaped Dr. Duke in hundreds of locations, from a boat in the middle of Galveston Bay to the tundra of Alaska. He loved working with us and doing his health reports. I’ll never forget spending a Christmas holiday with Dr. Duke and his grown children in the Adirondacks of New York because he wanted to do a series of reports on winter safety. He never took a vacation.

What I enjoyed most about Dr. Duke was his fun sense of humor. He loved showing off his TV bloopers, curse words and all. His favorite blooper occurred at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. I had just started recording him standing in front of a large bull when the animal lifted its tail and proceeded to take a dump. At that moment, Dr. Duke looked back at the bull, faced the camera again, and with a huge grin said, ‘From the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, I’m Dr. Red Duke.’

He was a great guy, a genuine Texan, and a hero to the thousands he saved and the thousands he taught. We’ll never have another like him pass our way again.

Dr. Duke’s handwritten notes and final script for a health report are pictured against his coffee-stained manila folder. Item courtesy of the UTHealth archives.

Our Healer

tmc duke 17As told by T. Cissy" Rivers
Food and Nutrition Services, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center

My first hug with Dr. Duke. I'll never forget it. I was working the cash register at Café Hermann one evening after suffering an injury to my arm. I had been in excruciating pain – I'm talking worse than labor – for two weeks and my doctor hadn't yet figured out what was wrong, so he put me in a brace. Dr. Duke came to my register to pay for his food when he noticed me holding my swollen arm. He told me, ‘Take that darn thing off your arm,’ and I took off my brace. Within seconds, he told me I had gout and said I needed to go back to the doctor for an X-ray. Sure enough, Dr. Duke was right.

The next week, Dr. Duke again stopped by my register to ask how I was doing. I was already feeling a hundred times better than the week before. But, when I told him what medicine my doctor had prescribed, Dr. Duke looked just as annoyed as the day he told me to take off my brace. He asked me to write down my doctor's phone number so that he could call and get me the right prescription. And he did. We sat together in the café while he made the call.

Eventually, I recovered and I was overwhelmed with love and gratitude for Dr. Duke. It isn't often that someone does what he did: go out of his way to help someone he didn't know, but someone he knew needed help. The next time he came to the café to check on me, I said, ‘Dr. Duke, can I give you a hug?’ He, of course, said yes. I hugged that man with all the love and gratitude in my heart – just like the hugs my granny used to give me – and I felt all the muscles and bones in his body relax. He must have felt the same, because he came back the next evening for another hug, and every day after that for the next five years.

I'll never be able to put into words how much that man meant to me. But I'll always be grateful he came to my register that night in the café.

Dr. Duke and Cissy Rivers embrace each other inside Café Hermann on the Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center Campus. Photo courtesy of Cissy Rivers.

Our Inspiration

As told by Dr. Guiseppe Coladsurdo
President, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

tmc duke 6We all have an image that comes to mind when we hear the name ‘Dr. Red Duke.’ For many, it may be his face on TV delivering health advice with that signature Texas twang. For the thousands of students he trained, it may be his look of pride when they got the answer right. For his patients, it may be his comforting and confident bedside manner. For me, the name Dr. Red Duke represents the very best that we can aspire to be as physicians and as educators.

In 2009, Dr. Duke wrote me a letter. In that letter, he said, ‘It is always my intention to attempt to treat others, be they patients, colleagues or strangers, with the dignity and respect that I can best determine would be their desire. I have never considered this some special behavior, just the manner in which any individual would relate to another human being.’

That was his true nature, even toward the end.

I had the opportunity to visit with him several times in his last few months, and every time he spoke of the joy that teaching brought him and about getting back to the classroom. His mind was strong and he spoke with such resolve about the importance of education and scholarships for our brightest students. As he put it, ‘Those students need all the help they can get!’

His pioneering spirit, his unrelenting passion for teaching, his respect for his fellow man – that is my image of Dr. Duke. And, he has left an indelible impact on thousands of patients, students, our university, our city…and on me personally. Thank you, Dr. Duke, for all that you gave and all that you were.

Dr. Duke and Dr. Giuseppe Colasurdo speak at a McGovern Medical School at UTHealth commencement ceremony. Photo courtesy of the UTHealth archives.

Our Mentor

As told by Dr. Joseph Love
Associate Professor of Surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth & Medical Director of Memorial Hermann Life Flight®

tmc duke 7I first met Dr. Duke when I was still a resident at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. He was giving the commencement address to the graduating surgery residents and, to me, he just seemed larger than life.

A few years later, I was interviewing for a position at the medical school and he was in charge of taking me to lunch. I climbed into his big ol’ truck and he drove us to a Mexican restaurant on Kirby that had a parking lot the size of a postage stamp. He pulls his big truck into the middle of the lot, rolls down his window and starts waving everyone else to go around him because he was waiting for a parking space. If it had been me driving, I probably would have gotten my truck keyed. But, because it was Dr. Duke, people just drove around us and waved.

At that point, we hadn’t said two words to each other. I’m nervous as all get-out in my suit because he’s (naturally) in his old scrubs. As soon as we walked into the restaurant, Dr. Duke started talking to the guy in the kitchen because, as I’m sure you know, he was friends with everybody. Of course he knows the guy in the kitchen! Then, he grabbed a takeout box and began filling it with tomatoes and onions from the salad bar. That’s it – just tomatoes and onions. He finally turned to me and said, ‘Well, what do you want?’

This was turning out to be the strangest lunch and I loved it…every minute of it.

I ordered some tacos and we sat down. He said, ‘You probably don’t know much about me.’ I said, ‘No sir, I feel I know quite a bit about you.’ He kept talking and warned me that I might think some of what he said was offensive, but that he was always going to tell me how it is. That was one of the things I loved about him. He wasn’t interested in going out of his way to make you feel comfortable with who he was.

Obviously, we hit it off and I got the job. He became a great friend and mentor. I love that my kids got to know him. I still don’t know what that takeout box filled with tomatoes and onions was all about, but it’s got to be one of the best recruitment lunches of all time.

Dr. Duke was often seen around the hospital wearing his signature green scrubs and lab coat. Photo courtesy of the Memorial Hermann archives.

Our Comedian

As told by Dr. James "Jamie" McCarthy
Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth

tmc duke 8The first time I met Dr. Duke was in August of 2001. I was a brand new attending and the hospital had just reopened after Tropical Storm Allison. I had been on the job maybe 10 days and was staffing the trauma side. I didn’t know anyone yet, and someone said, ‘Hey, there’s Dr. Red Duke.’ I went over and introduced myself. He seemed friendly and asked me where I was from. I said, ‘Well, I grew up in Boston but I trained in Chicago.’ He looked at me, scrunched up his scrub cap and said, ‘Who let a Yankee on staff at UT!?’ Then he stormed off while I was just standing there. A few seconds later, he turned around. He was laughing so hard his shoulders were moving up and down. I can’t think of a better way to be welcomed to Houston.

A few years later when the New England Patriots were playing in the Super Bowl in Houston, an intoxicated fan was brought in with significant injuries. Red noticed he was wearing a New England shirt. Any time things were getting a little chaotic in trauma, one of the things Red would do is tell a joke or say something funny to break the tension. Everyone would laugh and then quickly refocus. This man’s injuries were extensive, and there was a lot going on. Red said, ‘Do you know what Yankees and hemorrhoids have in common? The ones like this guy who come down here and then go back up, they don’t cause me any problems. But the ones who come down here and stay down here, they are a pain in my ***.’ He was pointing right at me. We all laughed and then did what we needed to do to save the patient.

Man, was he funny, but he was also kind and he had a masterful ability to remain calm no matter what. He was never flustered in a clinical situation and, no matter how busy he was, always took the time to talk to everyone. I mean, everyone. Once, I had taken my grandmother-in-law to the hospital and we saw Dr. Duke on the way out.

He crouched down by her wheelchair and must have talked to her for 20 minutes, right there in the middle of trauma. It meant the world to her. And it meant so much to me.

Dr. Duke is pictured in the operating room, likely on the verge of teaching a lesson or cracking a joke. Photo courtesy of the Memorial Hermann archives.

Our Minister

As told by Dr., Brijesh "Billy" Gill
Associate Professor of Surgery, McGovern Medical School at UTHealth

tmc duke 9Many people may not know Dr. Duke was an ordained minister. He had performed wedding ceremonies in his life, but when one of them went up in flames, he swore he’d never marry another couple. When Michelle [McNutt, M.D., fellow UTHealth trauma surgeon] and I were planning our wedding, we both immediately thought of Dr. Duke to officiate the ceremony. We knew we’d have some convincing to do, so we both independently went up to him on the same day and asked so he couldn’t say no.

We had a destination wedding in Mexico, but the real ceremony was at our home in the backyard. Red, of course, conducted a very traditional ceremony, complete with the part about the wife obeying the husband (at which point he stopped, looked at me and snickered). While the ceremony was going on, his dog Jake was playing in the pool. As we were exchanging our vows and holding hands, Jake came up and shook that pool water all over us.

For some, I imagine that would have been a disaster, but for us, it was a wonderful thing. To have Dr. Duke as the person to bring us before God and into marriage was beautiful. And to have Jake in the picture – literally in all the wedding photos – was certainly memorable. We wouldn’t have had it any other way.

When our twins were born, we named our son James after Dr. Duke. Dr. Duke was so important to us and this was one way we could honor him and our relationship with him. Hopefully our son also inherited a piece of Dr. Duke’s generous soul.

Dr. Duke conducts the marriage ceremony for Drs. Billy Gill and Michelle McNutt when his beloved dog, Jake, steals the show. Photos courtesy of Drs. Billy Gill and Michelle McNutt.

Our Flamingo

As told by Georgie Brown, RN
Chief Flight Nurse for Memorial Hermann Life Flight®

tmc duke 10Years ago, the Campus hosted a contest that asked employees to team up and dress a pink flamingo in a way that represented their department. The Life Flight team knew we had to make the flamingo look like Dr. Duke. After all, we were here because of his ideals and his mission to provide even better care for our patients. He embodied Life Flight and everything we stand for.

It wasn’t long before the flamingo came to life with Dr. Duke’s memorable good looks. His green scrubs, which were always accompanied by his broken-in brown cowboy boots. The same pair of gold wire-rimmed glasses that he had worn for 50-some years. A Texas A&M University patch on his white coat, because he was never too busy to ‘gig ‘em.’ And his signature mustache, which I never saw him without in the 40 years I knew him. He may have been born with it.

When he first saw ‘Dr. Pink,’ affectionately named after our Dr. ‘Red’ Duke, he laughed and responded with his typical, ‘Mm-hmm.’

The Life Flight team ended up winning an award for having the most spirited flamingo. But the real prize was having Dr. Duke by our side for so many years. Dr. Duke was a lot of things to a lot of people. He was everything to me.

Dr. Duke poses with “Dr. Pink,” a flamingo dressed by the Memorial Hermann Life Flight® team as part of a Campus contest. Photo courtesy of the Memorial Hermann archives.

Our Servant

As told by Logan Rutherford
Chaplain, Memorial Hermann Red Duke Trauma Institute

tmc duke 11When I first met Dr. Duke, I noticed something very unique about him right way. He had an amazing ability and willingness to talk with the staff and patients on a deeper, more intimate level. He saw his medical vocation and his work as a call to service.

Over the years, I witnessed profound examples of service from Dr. Duke on a daily basis – one in particular stays with many of us to this day. He knew how hard the nurses in the Shock Trauma ICU worked and knew they did not have the ability to go farther than their staff lounge to eat lunch. So, every day, Dr. Duke would collect the leftover food from the physician dining room and wheel it to the 3 Hermann break room for the staff to eat instead of letting it go to waste.

Like many, I learned a lot from Dr. Duke, mostly through observation. Yes, this renowned trauma surgeon at first could seem coarse with his uninhibited use of choice words and quick-witted ‘Dukeisms,’ but at the heart of this great man was a deep desire to serve others. Prior to attending medical school, Dr. Duke planned on becoming a Baptist minister and attended seminary, where he was greatly influenced by the theologian and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer. In fact, Dr. Duke credited many of his major life decisions to Schweitzer.

There is a quote from Albert Schweitzer that seems to ring true to the way Dr. Duke approached his life and calling. It reads, ‘I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.’

It’s as if Dr. Duke heard this quote and acted upon it, which was his greatest lesson of all.

Dr. Duke pushes a cart of leftover food from the physician dining room to the Shock Trauma ICU staff. Photo courtesy of Logan Rutherford.

Our Friend

As told by Randy Garbs
Former Patient at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center

tmc duke 12I was among his last patients. And, like thousands before me, Dr. Duke saved my life. On July 3, 2013, I was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident and found myself, by God’s grace, being ‘Life Flighted’ to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.

Against all odds, with incredible skill and judgment, the crew kept me alive on the way to the Emergency Center where I underwent several surgeries and fought a persistent infection. It was clear things were not going well for me when the larger-than-life trauma surgeon calmly walked into the ICU and took charge of my case.

Though Dr. Duke had seen just about every medical emergency, my case presented a challenge. The recurring infection of a large, deep wound seemed impervious to antibiotics and repeatedly put me back in the ICU. As unconventional as his idolized mustache and wire-rimmed glasses, Dr. Duke prescribed me a month of maggots – an ‘old school’ but effective protocol for debridement – followed by a month of brown sugar therapy. This course of action controlled the infection and set me on the road to recovery.

But it was Dr. Duke, not his remedies, who brought life into my hospital room. For three months, Dr. Duke would frequently stroll into my room after his rounds and sit down, sometimes without saying a word. Occasionally, he would bring me supper from his favorite restaurants. Then, out of nowhere, we would begin what were always very interesting and often random conversations about life, music, theology, food and – undoubtedly his favorite topic – his dog, Jake. I soon discovered that Dr. Duke was much more than a skilled trauma surgeon with a colorful personality. He was a man so full of life and confidence, and my dear and cherished friend.

I look forward to reuniting with him someday in heaven, where maybe one day our dogs can meet, and continuing the friendship we had only just begun.

Dr. Duke stops to make conversation at a nurses’ station as he completes his patient rounds for the day. Photo courtesy of the Memorial Hermann archives.

Our Winner

As told by Linda Mobley
Operating Room Clinical Coordinator, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center

tmc duke 13I had worked with Dr. Duke for 17 years before his health started to decline. But it was during his final months when we really became buds. I would visit him each evening and he’d tell me stories. Even then, Dr. Duke was preaching, teaching and winking.

One evening, Dr. Duke told me all about his friends. Willie Nelson. Johnny Cash. Bobby Bare. In his own words, he wasn’t a ‘groupie,’ just an old pal of the legendary musicians. I have to admit, I didn’t truly believe him until Lyle Lovett showed up at his funeral. Dr. Duke told me he had original albums from Bobby Bare, his all-time favorite singer. I told him, ‘If you show me that record, I’ll bring the record player.’ He held me to my promise.

Several days later, I put Bobby Bare’s record on the record player and his song, ‘The Winner,’ began to play. In an instant, Dr. Duke sat up, his eyes widened and before I knew what was happening, he channeled his best Bobby Bare and serenaded me word-for-word. He broke into song and I broke into laughter, but he didn’t miss a beat. That record player brought a lot of happiness to Dr. Duke and those of us near him during his final months.

As humble as he was, Red never lost his spark, his confidence or his charm. He once told me, ‘We don’t save lives, God does. It’s our job to keep our patients entertained ‘til He makes up His mind.’

Some days, we all need a little entertaining. That’s when I slide Dr. Duke’s record out from its faded, dusty album cover and listen:

‘Now you remind me a lotta my younger days with your knuckles a clenchin’ white
But boy I’m gonna sit right here and sip this beer all night
And if there’s somethin’ that you gotta gain to prove by winnin’ some silly fight
Well okay I quit I lose you’re the winner.’

Our Poet

As told by Dr. Duke (in his own words)

tmc duke 14There’s no denying Dr. Duke had a way with words. His outlandish phrases to colleagues and students made such an impact that they have been affectionately coined “Dukeisms.” Here are some of our favorites:

“Stay in the high grass and don’t raise your head in the same place twice.”
“Don’t punch a skunk.”
“That’s as helpful as a rubber crutch.”
“He’s as crazy as a two-pecker owl.”
“You only get into the ICU two ways…by being stupid or being with stupid.”
“You give them the books, but what do they do but eat the pages.” “Like a calf looking at a new gate.”
“Any day above ground is a good day.”
“Son, you sure you want to saddle that horse?”

A cartoon published in The Houston Post in 1989 highlights one of Dr. Duke’s famous quips. Item courtesy of the UTHealth archives.

Our Hero

As told by Eric Von Wenckstern
Memorial Hermann Life Flight® Administrative Director

tmc duke 15On Aug. 18, 1983, Hurricane Alicia was heading toward the Gulf Coast. It was my first hurricane as a Memorial Hermann Life Flight® pilot and we had three AS355 Twinstar helicopters to evacuate to a hangar in Spring, Texas, that could withstand 150 mph winds.

I was on duty at Hermann Hospital that afternoon when Life Flight received a call to pick up a shooting victim in Pearland. At that time, a flight nurse, a second year resident and a pilot were needed to complete a crew. I knew the winds were picking up and that in about an hour the rain would begin to hit Galveston. I accepted the flight knowing the tailwind would get us back to the hospital quickly and before we would need to evacuate the aircraft to Spring.

However, my plan hit a snag when the resident on duty refused to go on the flight, stating the hurricane was coming. Around the corner from our communications center, I ran into Dr. Duke in the Emergency Center. I quickly told him that a flight was holding for a scene call and the physician told Dr. Duke he was not taking the flight. Without wasting any time, Dr. Duke told the physician, ‘You should trust your pilot,’ and joined me on the flight to Pearland.

Admittedly, I was a little anxious flying our medical director, who had put his trust in my ability as a pilot. We flew to get the patient and returned to the hospital uneventfully when the decision was made to take our aircraft to the hangar.

It was a terrible storm. The next day, after retrieving the aircraft in Spring, I flew to Galveston with a mechanic to see how our aircraft at UTMB had fared. The devastation along the way was impactful, but not as impactful as the lasting impression Dr. Duke left on me that day in August. He understood that Life Flight provided a service and somebody needed our help. He never doubted that we could make a difference that day, and every day...and I will never forget that.

In September 2015, as the community memorialized Dr. Duke following his passing, Memorial Hermann and UTHealth colleagues were invited to fill in a portrait of a Life Flight helicopter with their red thumb prints, leaving their mark on the canvas, just as Dr. Duke had left his mark on all of us. Item courtesy of Memorial Hermann.

Our Teacher

As told by Tom Flanagan
Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center

tmc duke 5Although Red is remembered for numerous roles he played at our hospital and in the community – surgeon, TV personality and friend (among many others) – perhaps he is most remembered for his role as a teacher. Anyone who saw Red in action knew he meant business when it came to teaching residents and nurses in the operating room.

If you can imagine an orchestra conductor surrounded by his musicians leading them through a song, you can imagine Red with his residents. Often wearing his signature cowboy boots and green scrubs, Red would stand at the end of the patient bed in the trauma bay, with students surrounding him, barking lessons and questions and his ever-so-loved Dukeisms. This signature style of teaching left such a lasting impression on thousands of doctors and nurses that his boot prints (in the color red, of course) were added to the floor of each trauma bay in the Emergency Center. When we opened the new Emergency Center in the summer of 1999, the boot prints came with us. And they will have a home in our new patient tower when it opens in a few years.

Red had no problem filling his big boots as he was so many things to so many of us. To me, he was also like a father. And while I think of him countless times a day, I’m grateful that these red boot prints will be a reminder to doctors, nurses and staff for years to come of how rewarding and humbling it is to work at a hospital where Dr. Red Duke left his footprints forever.

Dr. Duke’s signature red boot prints are on the floor, facing every trauma bay in the Emergency Center at the Memorial Hermann Red Duke Trauma Institute. Image courtesy of Memorial Hermann.