Anyone who blazes a trail is a leader not just by virtue of their position in the procession toward a destination. The recent death ( August 25, 2015 ) of Houston trauma surgeon James H. “Red” Duke Jr., M.D. brought that to mind. In 1972 in the eighth year of his medical career he sought out existing air ambulance programs in other parts of the country. The passion of a single individual for a purpose or ideal like Dr. Duke’s … in this case saving lives … enabled the creation of LifeFlight® in Houston. LifeFlight® became Texas’ first life-saving ambulance service for the Memorial Hermann Texas Trauma Institute just four years later in 1976. So, from 1972 forward, he blazed a new trail. It’s interesting about trailblazers … in hindsight their achievements seem like foregone conclusions! Yet new trails require a leader’s persistence and patience; and remember, Dr. Duke had his “8-5” job in addition.
Most of the writings of Dr. “Red” Duke’s life chronicle his achievements but don’t dwell on the soul of the man. One article, however revealed a key to his innate caring. His bedside manner was well known. It has been reported that when he walks into a patient’s room, for example the first thing he does is sit down. Dr. Duke, “I want the patient to know I’m not going anywhere, they have my attention”.
In another piece I read about his heart for medicine, the reporter noted: Duke was a surgical resident at Parkland Hospital that fateful day in 1963 and attended to the other victim of the moment, Gov. John Connally. Connally (1917 – 1993) would live another three decades and gave much credit to Duke who sat by the side of the governor and his wife, Nellie, night after night and modeled the difference between treating a patient and caring for a patient.
This is worth considering I believe. Leaders see the new trail before others. Then, if the new trail has a value to the world and the leader’s purpose is that and not self-aggrandizement or rewards – people are inspired to follow. Followers of Dr. Duke were inspired by his humility “I’m just an old country doctor” and his genuine caring for patients and medical interns.
Leaders are givers. The picture here is a photo I took the night he addressed our Blue and Gold Cub Scout banquet in 1984. His example – beyond those 40-50 Cub Scouts- would be evident throughout the hospital system where he worked as a Scout’s mother, a nurse, [ who must have been the personal contact that brought him to us ] must have told of his “giving” story multiple times to her immediate and distant peers.
Dr. Duke never commanded anyone to care … rather, he modeled it for everyone. And listened!