Dr. Mario and Sarah Ramirez honored as Texas heroes
McAllen (April 3, 2007) – Tears, laughter and warm hearts abounded April 2 at the McAllen Country Club as 300 close friends and colleagues turned out to celebrate the lifetime contributions of Mario E. Ramirez, M.D., retiring vice president for South Texas programs, and his wife, Sarah.
Dr. Ramirez, whose last day in the office was March 31, is a household name in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where he practiced family medicine in Starr County for 43 years. He established the first hospital in the county at Roma in 1958, and later, as Starr County judge, helped lead the effort to build Starr County Memorial Hospital, which opened in Rio Grande City in 1975.
“Mario Ramirez has focused his life on the care of patients. Whether one could pay or whether one had no means to pay, that was irrelevant,” said Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Dr. Cigarroa, a surgeon who at age 15 observed his first surgery at Dr. Ramirez’s side, hosted the event with his wife, Graciela. Dr. Cigarroa’s father, Joaquin G. Cigarroa, M.D., of Laredo, is a close friend of Dr. Ramirez.
Dr. Ramirez served as Starr County judge from 1969 until 1978, and Gov. Bill Clements appointed him to a term on The University of Texas System Board of Regents from 1989 until 1995. Dr. Ramirez has held other key positions in his profession, and has been honored by U.S. presidents including Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.
The most recent chapter of his career has been as vice president at the Health Science Center, where he established and nurtured the Med/Ed Program. Med/Ed has inspired 2,200 students in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Laredo with the message that college and health science careers are for them and are attainable.
At least 100 Med/Ed alumni are pursuing advanced studies and are practicing professionals in medicine, nursing, allied health and dentistry.
“He saw firsthand the intellectual brilliance and potential that the students along the border truly have,” Dr. Cigarroa said. “Much of the diversity we are now experiencing in the schools of medicine across the state of Texas, and even beyond, is the result of the work of Mario Ramirez.”
A video tribute to Dr. and Mrs. Ramirez included a number of moving testimonies revealing the humility, hope and love for people that characterize the couple.
“He saw truth and goodness and beauty in all of us,” said his longtime friend, The Rev. Roy Snipes, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Mission, as the video showed a black-and-white photo of Dr. Ramirez treating a mother’s face while her little girl looked on.
“He is an advocate for the people,” said Austin pediatrician Jaime Ramirez, M.D., son of Dr. and Mrs. Ramirez. “His lasting legacy is that he really cared about people, wanted to help them and wanted to educate all he could.”
A personal story
Hector de Leon, M.D., met Dr. Ramirez at the age of 7. Hector wanted to be a Cub Scout, so his mother, a single mom, took him to Dr. Ramirez to get medical clearance. Dr. Ramirez took an interest in Hector and kept up with him. Hector eventually went through the Med/Ed Program and Dr. Ramirez took him to visit the Health Science Center. Today, Dr. Hector de Leon is a resident physician at Children’s Hospital in Austin. He said once to Dr. Ramirez that he wanted to be just like him. “The Med/Ed Program, and Dr. Ramirez, gave me a very clear path to get to where I am today,” he said.
“I don’t think there is any question that Mario himself would say involvement with students and their future is the thing for which he would like to be remembered,” said Art Dilly, executive secretary emeritus of the U.T. System Board of Regents.
Dr. Ramirez’s wife, Sarah, made possible so much of what he accomplished. A nurse by profession, she raised their five children. She was at his side at the White House in 1978 when President Carter honored Dr. Ramirez for his selection as Family Doctor of the Year by the American Academy of Family Physicians and Good Housekeeping magazine. (See a time line of Dr. Ramirez's life.)
Dr. Jaime Ramirez said his father and mother were the “classic dream team.”
An indelible mark
In 1972, Dr. Ramirez became just the eighth physician to receive the Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Medical Association. In 1976 in Philadelphia, he received the Benjamin Rush Bicentennial Award from the American Medical Association, honoring his community service. “His vision for medicine and for what a doctor is will never be forgotten or be extinguished or go away,” Dr. De Leon said.
“Mario Ramirez is one of the great heroes that Texas has produced,” said President Cigarroa, who presented Dr. Ramirez a commemorative Health Science Center oak chair with a personalized plaque on the back.
The Dr. Mario E. Ramirez Elementary School in Rio Grande City is named for Dr. Ramirez, and he will never be forgotten by his patients, by students or across Texas, President Cigarroa said.
Note: During the video, Dr. Cigarroa mentioned the Dr. Mario E. Ramirez Chair Fund in Family and Community Medicine. The purpose of this fund is to support medical education and programs in family practice in South Texas while working closely with students and faculty of the Regional Academic Health Center. Anyone who wishes to donate to the Chair Fund or request more information may call the Health Science Center Development Office at (210) 567-5001.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $536 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $14.3 billion biosciences and health care industry, the leading sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 22,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and allied health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, allied health, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, click on www.uthscsa.edu.
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