The recent death of 88-year-old Dr. James Henry “Red” Duke Jr. had a profound impact on the hundreds of thousands of people who knew him through his celebrated nationally syndicated television program, Texas Health Reports.

Others, who owed their lives to the helicopter ambulance service he founded called Life Flight, felt an even stronger bond with the renowned surgeon.

His former students may have felt his influence more closely than anyone.

Diana L. Fite, MD, FACEP, of Houston, was one of Duke’s first students at the UT Medical School. She later went on to become an emergency medicine doctor herself. 

“He would make rounds for hours on the patients,” Fite says. “He would go in to the room of every patient, answer every question, have a seat and talk to them awhile about their family and their job and other things. And, as medical students, we learned from someone who was very compassionate and caring about their patients.”

Fite, who grew up in the Texas Panhandle and earned her medical degree from the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, learned these lessons well. 

She is an attending physician in the emergency department at Methodist Willowbrook Hospital in Houston, as well as the medical director of Emerus Community Hospital in Tomball, site of the first Emerus facility.
Fite also served for 22 years as part-time clinical assistant professor for the emergency medicine residency program at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

In 1995, Fite became the first female president of the Texas College of Emergency Physicians and the first and only emergency physician to serve as president of the 12,000-member Harris County Medical Society. In both roles, she raised the visibility of emergency medicine and championed issues of importance to the emergency physicians and patients. 

In 2013, she received the James D. Mills Outstanding Contribution to Emergency Medicine Award, named for the second president of ACEP and organizer of the Alexandria Plan for full-time emergency department staffing and management. 

Duke was Fite’s mentor – a talented and tireless surgeon, a dedicated and inspiring educator, and a peerless communicator. These are just some of the traits that made him one of the nation’s great doctors.

He was a role model to a generation of doctors like Diana Fite, and doctors and patients alike benefitted greatly from his guidance.