In celebration of what would have been Dr. James H. “Red” Duke, Jr.’s 88th birthday, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) hosted on Wednesday, Nov. 16, the opening a special art exhibit inspired by the late surgeon and founder of Memorial Hermann Life Flight®.

Student art on the McGovern Medical School Art Wall.
Student art on the McGovern Medical School Art Wall.

Students, a teacher, and administrators from Dr. James H. “Red” Duke Elementary School gathered with family and friends at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth to remember Duke, a longtime medical educator at UTHealth who died Aug. 25, 2015.

Dr. Richard Andrassy, chair of the Department of Surgery, welcomed guests to the opening of the art exhibit, which features 21 drawings of Life Flight helicopters. The illustrations by students at Dr. James “Red” Duke Elementary School will be on display on the Art Wall at McGovern Medical School through February 2017.

As first-graders in Val Vannoy’s class, the students created the artwork in 2014 shortly after Dr. James “Red” Duke Elementary School opened in Manvel. During Wednesday’s event, Vannoy shared a tearful story of her sister being saved because of Life Flight. In part because of that experience, she wanted her students to have a deeper understanding of the legendary surgeon for whom their school is named. As part of the history lesson, the students drew pictures of Life Flight helicopters for Duke. She has continued this tradition with each new class she teaches.

Sara Duke, one of Duke’s daughters, recently discovered the artwork and shared it with UTHealth to display at McGovern Medical School.

“I feel like this is my second home, and I’m so glad your artwork is here in our home and that you will help everyone remember what he did for humanity, Houston, and Texas,” Sara Duke told the students from Dr. James “Red” Duke Elementary.

One of the highlights of Wednesday’s celebration was a reading by Reese Steger, a third-grade student at Dr. James “Red” Duke Elementary. To the standing-room-only crowd, she read a story by Randy Garbs, a former patient at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.

“I was among his last patients. And, like thousands before me, Dr. Duke saved my life,” Steger read.

The program ended with UTHealth President Dr. Giuseppe N. Colasurdo leading the children and other guests in singing “Happy Birthday” in honor of Duke, whose life’s work was dedicated in service to others.