Beyond Friendship by Charles Schwab, MD

It has taken time to write about Don. When he started to decline mentally, it seemed incomprehensible that this great man would come to a disease that would strip away his mind. For it was his intellect that defined Don’s professional life and delivered the influence he had on the world. My father, decades ago, suffered the stages of dementia and Dad’s four-year decline was intensely painful. To know how Don’s remaining years might proceed crushed my heart.

It is difficult to put into words a description of Don Trunkey. For Don Trunkey was in a category all his own—a man of utmost integrity, a person who had all the gifts that could guide, advise and lead during the good times, and especially when paths had not been travelled and answers remained hidden.  Dr. Trunkey was the consummate professional: ethical behavior beyond reproach, altruistic to the core, constant intellectual development, committed to his convictions, with superb emotional intelligence and an inability to compromise his values. He was serious and strong, not arrogant, rather humble, and he constantly displayed a sense of enjoyment and fun about life and for the people he served and loved. He was “called” to the profession of medicine and sought to improve the health of others by perpetually elevating the care of the injured.  He was a visionary, counselor, leader, physician, surgeon, righteous citizen, patriot, confidante to many and the most impactful trauma surgeon of our time.

I don’t how, why or exactly when Don and I became good friends. Regardless, for some thirty years we were the best of friends. We rarely talked business even though we traveled together a great deal, vacationed with our wives and, if time sped on without talking,  with no regard for time zone or , continent,  a phone call  came about. Our Sun Fun group with Tommy Thompson, Lew Flint and Kim Maul kept the five couples together. Always a gathering in mid-winter, on a Caribbean island and a few rules: no business allowed, great music and entertainment, fabulous meals, and a little fine wine was a part of the glue. These gatherings were hilarious and an annual recharging of the energy cells of our bodies, minds and souls. Don and I were hikers and over thirty years we probably hiked thousands of miles. one on one.  Those times were precious. Margie and Jane were great friends and as a traveling foursome, our trips were adventurous and memorable.  We enjoyed each other’s company and our senses of humor and love of the comedy in life were lifelong bonds. Many, many tears were shared; most were from laughter, some from sorrows.  Friends for life.

I see today what I most admired about Don, both his gentleness and strength, easygoing joy and stubborn tenacity for issues he strongly believed.  He was a wonderful older brother, a navigator of my life and gently turned my compass a few degrees, and without my knowing the change in direction was taking place. He was beyond a friend and a precious gift in my life. Thank you, Don.

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