Dr. James “Red” Duke Jr. was a legend in his own time.
Born in Ennis, Texas in 1928, Duke began to make his mark with high achievements while still young, not only attaining the rank of Eagle Scout, but winning the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America. He graduated from Hillsboro High School and went on to earn a degree in science from Texas A&M University in 1950. While there he served as a yell leader, a Ross Volunteer, was named Outstanding Cadet as a member of “B” Cavalry, and was the first person to deliver the poem “The Last Corps Trip” publicly.
After graduation, he served a two-year hitch as a U.S. Army tank officer with the 2nd Armored Division, then earned a Masters of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1955. Inspired by the work of medical missionary Albert Schweitzer, he then enrolled in the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, receiving his M.D. in 1960. During his residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Duke was the first surgeon to receive President John F. Kennedy after he was shot in Dallas in 1963. He also treated the wounds Texas Governor John Connally received at the same time.
In 1966 Duke became an assistant professor of surgery at UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. He later taught also at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. While there, he also pursued graduate studies in chemical engineering, biochemistry, and computer sciences as part of a special fellowship program. From 1970-1972 he served as a visiting professor at Nangarhar University School of Medicine in Jalalabad, Afghanistan and later served as chairman of surgery there.
He returned from Afghanistan to join the faculty of the University of Texas’ new Medical School at Houston as professor of surgery. He remained there as a distinguished professor for the duration of his career and helping to establish the Memorial Hermann’s Level 1 trauma center–the busiest in the nation. He was its director, and in 1976 he established the first Life Flight helicopter ambulance program in the nation. He was a founding member of the American Trauma Society and an Advanced Trauma Life Support instructor for the American College of Surgeons. In 1988 he was named the James F. Mitchell Foundation’s Surgeon of the Year.
Known for his cowboy style, Texas drawl, and homespun advice, he educated the public about health-related topics as host of the nationally syndicated Texas Health Reports and PBS series Bodywatch.
On Tuesday, August 25, 2015, Dr. James “Red” Duke passed away at the age of 86 at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, where he had invested his life for over 40 years. He died of natural causes.