Iconic Houston surgeon, Dr. James "Red" Duke, passes away

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Dr. Red Duke pioneered the Life Flight program at Memorial Herman Hospital and he led the medical response during the Kennedy assassination.

A Houston medical icon has died. On Tuesday, we learned that trauma surgeon Dr. James "Red" Duke passed away at the age of 86.

Dr. Duke was instrumental in starting up the Life Flight program in the 1970s, which has become the premier air ambulance service in the country.

PHOTOS: Dr. James 'Red' Duke through the years


Eyewitness News Anchor Dave Ward knew Dr. Duke quite well.



"He did more to help emergency room care, trauma care than anyone in the medical profession," said Ward.

Dr. Duke did syndicated television reports that started at Channel 13. Those syndicated reports went all over the country.

While at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Dr. Duke was on call after President John F. Kennedy was shot. He also took care of Texas Gov. John Connally, who was shot at the same time.

Duke was given the nickname "Red" from his childhood curly locks. His trademark looks - the bristly mustache and wire-rimmed glasses -- were part of his charm, as was his country twang.

Duke was born in Ennis, Texas, in 1928. His family moved to Hillsboro, where he went to high school before attending Texas A&M, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree.

He also earned a divinity degree at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, before reconsidering his career choice and earning his medical degree at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.



He joined the faculty of the 2-year-old University of Texas Medical School at Houston in 1972.

In a statement, Dr. Richard Andrassy, surgery department chairman at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, said Duke died Tuesday at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston of natural causes.

"He was with family at Memorial Hermann. He was not in pain. He will be missed very much by all of us at UT Medical School and Memorial Hermann," Andrassy said.

From the family of Dr. James Henry "Red" Duke, Jr.:

    "It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of Dr. James Henry "Red" Duke, Jr.

    To countless colleagues, friends and patients, he was a skilled physician, innovative healthcare provider, exceptional communicator and dedicated conservationist.

    We, however, mourn him as a caring father, grandfather and devoted brother who will be deeply missed by his family."





In lieu of customary remembrances, the family requests that memorial contributions be directed to the James H. "Red" Duke, Jr. MD Endowed Scholarship Fund, UTHealth Office of Development, P.O. Box 1321, Houston, TX 77251-1321 or to the Memorial Hermann Life Flight Fund c/o Memorial Hermann Foundation, 929 Gessner, Suite 2650, Houston, TX 77024.
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