Tell Red Duke he’s a living legend and he’ll be honored at a gala Nov. 14 for a lifetime of contributions and you’ll get a silent stare. His bristly mustache will dance a bit sideways in puzzlement before his eyes lock in and his famous down-home Texas twang fills the room.
(Read slow for effect) “And why on Earth would you want to say that? I’ve just been doing my job the best way I know how. And to be honest with you, I’ve got no idea what all this fuss is about … but I’m happy to participate.”
Remind him that The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Constellation Gala will raise funds supporting student scholarships and faculty endowments, and now you have him interested.
It’s not that James H. “Red” Duke, Jr, MD, the John B. Holmes Professor of Clinical Sciences, is not appreciative and grateful for the accolades. It’s just that he’s about as humble and self-assuming a person as you’ll ever meet. When singled out for praise, he’s downright shy — whether it’s the recent dedication of an elementary school named in his honor or lifetime achievement recognition by UTHealth, his first thought is always going to be for others on his team who deserve recognition.
Take Life Flight for example. Duke co-founded the trendsetting air ambulance program back in 1976 at Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center. To date, more than 140, 000 missions have been flown and thousands of lives saved within a 150-mile radius of Houston. As medical director he’s had a direct hand in the program’s creation, growth and safety record. Preaching safety is something he’s especially proud of and the program’s record shows it.
Now try to thank him for his round-the-clock daily service to the community for nearly five decades and he’ll respond without a blink: “We really need to be thanking the EMS and Life Flight’s flight personnel. People have no idea what they face. When they are starting an IV, they may be starting it in a ditch, upside down and all kinds of things that go on. I’m much more inclined for people like that to get some credit than any credit for me. I’m very fortunate to come along at a time where I could be involved to some degree in some of the development of this, but I do not take any individual credit.”
On this morning I’ve come to College Station to spend some time with my friend and faculty colleague who is a living legend whether he wants me to say it or not. Duke is sitting at the kitchen table well into his fried eggs, pan sausage with half a biscuit in hand — I’m obviously late.
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