read up on red

New book reveals hidden life of legendary Houston trauma surgeon

New book reveals hidden life of legendary Houston trauma surgeon

Dr red Duke Life flight
The iconic Duke's colorful life is the subject of a new biography.  UTHealth/Memorial Hermann

Few Houstonians have changed the face of global healthcare like Dr. James Henry “Red” Duke, Jr. In 1976, Duke would forever shape emergency medical care by creating the Life Flight air ambulance service at what’s now Memorial Hermann Hospital — putting the Texas Medical Center at the forefront of the world’s trauma units.

Much like his friend President George H.W. Bush, Duke owes his much of his popularity to his humble, approachable, eminently likable demeanour. In the ’80s and ’90s, he became a beloved Houston television presence with his regular Channel 13 medical feature, which he would close with trademark, smooth-as-molasses drawl: “I’m Dr. Red Duke.”

Duke, who died in 2015, is the subject of a thorough new biography, which is simply and appropriately titled I’m Dr. Red Duke. The tome, penned by Bryant Boutwell, Dr. P.H, features never-before-seen photographs and rare insight into Houston’s most famous trauma surgeon. Boutwell spent “just about every Saturday of the last year of his life in his daughter Sara’s home” collecting interviews and memories. “I also was able to visit Red’s storage unit in Houston where we discovered an old box that had 300 letters in it,” he adds. “Red’s mother had saved all of his letters. I happily scanned them and returned the originals to the family.”

And oh, what letters: “Letters to Santa, letters from when he lived in Afghanistan, letters from Germany during the Cold War where he was an Army tank commander,” reveals Boutwell. “I also had the letters from when he was dating Betty — they were married 31 years. Those letters gave insights from when he was in the seminary and from his medical school days.”

Boutwell will sign his book — which boasts a forward by the late President Bush — on Tuesday, December 11 at THE McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Fans can expect to meet Boutwell and — in a surprise visit — Duke’s daughter, Sara. Half of all the royalties of I’m Dr. Red Duke will go toward the James H. “Red” Duke, Jr. Scholarship fund for McGovern Medical School students.


Boutwell will present and sign I’m Dr. Red Duke at 3 pm Tuesday, December 11 at the McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, 6431 Fannin St. Visit the site for more information.