Health & Science

Famed Houston Surgeon Dr. James ‘Red’ Duke Dies At Age 86

Dr. James Henry “Red” Duke, Jr. was an iconic surgeon and trauma physician

Red Duke on horseback

Dr. James Henry “Red” Duke, Jr. was an iconic surgeon and trauma physician known for working tirelessly and pushing the boundaries of possibility. Tom Flanagan is the chief operating officer of Memorial Hermann. He worked alongside Dr. Duke for 29 years.

“People would follow him because he was such a passionate man and so focused about patients,” Flanagan says.

With his Texas twang and bushy mustache, Dr. Duke became nationally recognized through his television news program, Texas Health Reports. He taught viewers about healthy habits, from maintaining good nutrition to managing stress. He also attended to Texas Governor John Connally on the day of the Kennedy assassination.

Most notably, Dr. Duke founded Memorial Hermann Life Flight in 1976. The helicopter ambulance service has flown more than 140,000 missions to date. Flanagan says when the program began, Dr. Duke had to work through lots of logistical challenges.

“Landing in the street and airlifting patients to hospitals, it just didn’t make sense,” he says. “And so he had the ability to push those barriers and to be a pioneer.”

That pioneering attitude made Dr. Duke a mentor for many of his colleagues. Eric von Wenckstern is the administrative director of Memorial Hermann Life Flight.

“He was what our hospital has become, and he represented our hospital, and I think, actually put it on the map,” von Wenckstern says.

Von Wenckstern says he hopes to help carry on Dr. Duke’s vision.


Tomeka Weatherspoon

Senior Producer

Tomeka Weatherspoon is an Emmy-award winning producer. She produces segments, the weekly television program Arts InSight, the short film showcase The Territory and a forthcoming digital series on innovation. Originally from the Midwest, Tomeka studied convergence journalism from the world’s first journalism school at the University of Missouri. She has...

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