May 17, 2019
(Watch the video of the award presentation.)
When Don R. Read, MD, decided to become a physician, he didn’t dream of rising to the pinnacle of recognition from the Texas Medical Association (TMA), as he would ultimately achieve.
How could he know? He was just eight years old when he decided he wanted to become a doctor.
Today, that pinnacle was reached: TMA bestowed the 2019 TMA Distinguished Service Award to Dr. Read posthumously at TexMed, the association’s annual conference, in Dallas. Although he died in March from pancreatic cancer, TMA notified Dr. Read, a recent TMA president, of the award several months ago.
“I didn’t realize there was any higher honor than being TMA president. Now I realize there is, and I’m very humbled and honored to receive this award,” said Dr. Read upon hearing the news that he had been selected for TMA’s top recognition.
Dr. Read served as TMA’s 151st president from 2016 to 2017, and served in several other leadership roles in organized medicine.
“Words such as integrity, honesty, compassion, and servant leadership follow Dr. Read wherever he goes,” Dallas County Medical Society (DCMS) EVP/CEO, Michael Darrouzet, said in nominating Dr. Read for this award. “These accolades are warranted due to his long list of service to the community of Dallas and the profession of medicine.”
Dr. Read led a life of service – to his country, to his community, to his family, to physicians in Texas and around the world, and to the patients for whom they care. As a child he dreamed of serving patients as a medical missionary. Sure enough, years later he cared for needy patients in somewhat primitive conditions in Zaire, which now is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That prepped him to serve in Vietnam under similarly challenging conditions. He was a U.S. Navy surgeon in a mobile surgical hospital unit there, earning the rank of lieutenant commander and a Bronze Star. Those overseas experiences readied him to better care for his patients when he returned stateside.
“I think I just wanted to help people,” he said.
Dr. Read even turned a near-death experience into a way he could help others.
He contracted neuroinvasive West Nile virus in 2005, with encephalitis, meningitis, and polio-like paralysis. After recovering, he created the Dallas-area West Nile Support Group. One of the few such organizations in the country, the 200-member group meets regularly to discuss managing West Nile symptoms as well as effects of other mosquito-borne illnesses, like the Zika virus. Dr. Read also volunteered his time helping and supporting patients diagnosed with West Nile.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to survive. When you’re that sick, you realize how dependent you are on the people taking care of you. And you find out how much you need a patient advocate,” he told TMA in 2016. “I gained a new appreciation of the need for advocacy from the individual patient’s standpoint.”
In addition to serving as TMA president, Dr. Read chaired the TMA Board of Trustees, was the founding chair of the TMA PracticeEdge physician services organization’s Board of Managers, and chaired TMA's Patient-Physician Advocacy Committee.
Dr. Read also was president of DCMS, and the Texas Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. In fact, throughout his career, Dr. Read was president or in leadership of 17 hospital and medical society organizations, held nine medical society memberships, was appointed to the staffs of 11 hospitals, and published 10 medical papers.
“[He believed that] if you really want to make an impact for your patients, it’s not just seeing them in the clinics, it’s helping to change the structure of a hospital or getting involved with local organized medicine,” said Dallas interventional cardiologist Rick Snyder, MD, who worked with Dr. Read at Medical City Dallas. “He really opened my eyes about the impact I could have as a physician-advocate.”
Yet Dr. Read insisted that leadership found him. “I never had a personal ambition of being president of the Dallas County Medical Society or president of TMA; I got recruited to every position I ever held,” he said.
During his year as TMA president, he and his wife of 50 years, Roberta, traveled across Texas to visit physicians, county medical societies, medical schools, as well as to attend TMA meetings. They also participated in TMA’s First Tuesdays at the Capitol lobby days during the 2017 session of the Texas Legislature.
“The biggest highlight was all the wonderful people we met. I was so impressed by all the county medical society officers, the alliance members we traveled with – Debbie Pitts was [TMA Alliance] president during my year – by the residents, by the students we met,” he said. “I was impressed by all the people coming up the chain for the future; I think we’ll be in very good hands.”
Dr. Read was born and raised in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and later moved to Glendale, Calif., where he was co-captain and quarterback of the football team, and where he earned the rank of Eagle Scout.
After graduating from Austin College in Sherman, Texas in 1964, Dr. Read received his medical degree in 1968 from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Then came his medical mission trip, then Vietnam and military service. After that, he completed his medical residency in Chicago, and was named director of surgical education at Cook County Hospital there. He later returned to Dallas and co-founded Texas Colon and Rectal Specialists in Dallas, which grew to become one of the largest colorectal medical practices in the United States, with 18 surgeons in 11 offices.
Dr. Read sang in the choir at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church and had been a member of the Downtown Dallas Rotary Club for more than 30 years. He loved traveling Texas and the world with his family, and he was an avid photographer.
He is survived by his wife, Roberta, a nurse at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas; daughters Alison Read and Sarah Read Gehrenbeck; grandsons Henry Read and Theo Don Gehrenbeck; his brother, Nat Read; and his sister-in-law Linda Read.
TMA’s Distinguished Service Award was created in 1962, and the first award was given in 1964.
TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing nearly 53,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.
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