Ronald Charles Elkins, M.D., passed away in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, February 8, 2023, after a long and fulfilling life. He was born on July 6, 1936, in Lubbock, Texas, the second son of Ernest Guy Elkins and Flora Jane (Gibson) Elkins.
At an early age, Ron moved with his family to Farmington, New Mexico, where he grew up on a small farm. As a youth, Ron started his own business raising chickens and selling eggs. While at Farmington High School, he was active in 4-H, Future Farmers of America, and varsity sports. He was selected to attend New Mexico Boys State and Boys Nation.
After graduating from high school, Ron went to the University of Oklahoma to play football under Coach Bud Wilkinson, but an injury ended his college football career. At OU, he was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity and served as its president. Ron was selected for the Peet Honor Society and was named one of the top three seniors in his graduating class.
Within days of his graduation in 1958, Ron married his college sweetheart, Lida Sue Neil. Happily married for almost sixty-five years, they were the proud parents of Jeffrey Connor Elkins, M.D., Charles Craig Elkins, M.D., and Susan Jane Elizabeth Elkins Evans.
Ron initially pursued a graduate degree in mathematics, but he soon transferred to the OU College of Medicine. That decision changed the trajectory of his life, and it proved to be lifesaving for generations of Oklahomans. While in medical school, Ron was selected for membership in Alpha Omega Alpha, the national medical honor society. After graduating in 1962, Ron attended the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for his surgical residency, followed by advanced training in cardiothoracic and vascular surgery. At Johns Hopkins, he was selected as one of two Chief Residents.
After completing his training at Johns Hopkins, Ron joined the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service and was assigned to the National Heart Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. After his tenure with the Public Health Service ended, Ron returned to Oklahoma in 1971 to practice medicine under the tutelage of Dr. Rainey Williams at OU Health Sciences Center. Ron was a pioneer in the treatment of congenital heart defects in infants and children, and over the course of his career he performed thousands of surgeries on high-risk patients. He specialized in pediatric cardiovascular surgery for over fifty years.
He served as Chief of Cardiac Services at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center and as Vice Chairman, Department of Surgery, and Chief of Thoracic Surgery at OUHSC. While on the staff of OUHSC, Ron traveled to France to study with Dr. Alain F. Carpentier, recognized as the father of mitral valve repair, and to the United Kingdom to study with Donald Nixon Ross, DSc, FRCS, who developed the pulmonary autograft procedure for the treatment of aortic valve disease. Ron brought their cutting-edge techniques back to the United States, and he became an internationally recognized expert in the Ross procedure, a heart valve replacement operation for severe aortic valve disease. Patients from over thirty-five states and several foreign countries came to Oklahoma for surgery, and Ron was invited to teach the Ross procedure at heart hospitals throughout the United States and in Asia, Europe, and Australia. When interviewed by The Oklahoman in 1999, Ron explained one of the rewards of his profession: "Many times you take a child who has a limited life expectancy — I mean months, sometimes weeks — and correct the heart condition and then see these children grow into adulthood, many of them with normal life expectancy, who go on to have their own children."
During his career, Ron published over 160 academic papers, 40 abstracts, and chapters in over a half-dozen medical texts. He trained generations of medical students, surgical residents, and fellows. Teaching was his passion, and mentoring young physicians was a labor of love.
Ron was fiercely devoted to the patients who were entrusted to his care. In 1995, he ordered a national television anchor and crew removed from University Hospital for disrupting the treatment of victims of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. News of their heated encounter soon spread in the local community.
The OU College of Medicine recognized him as its Physician of the Year (Academic Medicine) in 1985 and honored him with the Edgar W. Young Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992 for dedication and achievement in medical education. In 1997, he received the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Medical Service at the College of Medicine’s Evening of Excellence. The annual event honors individuals and organizations making significant contributions to research and medicine in the State of Oklahoma. In 1999, Ron was the King of the Fifty-Fourth Annual Beaux Arts Ball, a longtime fundraiser for the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. He was a member of the Executive Committee and Operations Committee of Children’s Hospital of Oklahoma and Chief of Staff, University Hospital.
Ron entered semi-retirement as a professor emeritus in 2002, but he continued to assist his son Craig in challenging surgeries for years to come. Ron was a member of the board of directors of CryoLife, a leading medical device company, for over twenty years. Since the company’s inception, CryoLife devices and preserved tissues have been implanted in over one million patients worldwide, and the company honored Ron’s service by naming its auditorium for him.
Outside of work, Ron enjoyed many hobbies, including golf, fly fishing, sporting clays, and hunting deer, quail, turkey, ducks, and pheasants. He traveled to Russia, Canada, and Alaska to fish, and to South Dakota and the Oklahoma Panhandle to pheasant hunt. He loved spending time with his beloved bird dogs on his farm in southwest Oklahoma.
With Lida at his side, Ron was a devoted member of Nichols Hills United Methodist Church for over fifty years. They enjoyed their weekly fellowship with the Kiva Sunday School Class, and Ron served as trustee and chairman of the church board. For five years, he was Scoutmaster of Troop 55, Last Frontier Council, Boy Scouts of America. During his tenure as Scoutmaster, he mentored sixteen Eagle Scouts, including his two sons.
Ron was preceded in death by his parents; his brother, Royce Elkins; and his son, Jeffrey Connor Elkins. He is survived by Lida, his loving wife of over sixty-four years; son and daughter-in-law, Craig and Virginia Elkins; and daughter and son-in-law, Susan and Don Evans. He also is survived by Connor, Robert, and Charlie Evans and Cooper, Grant, and Monica Elkins, his beloved grandchildren; Grant’s wife, Ashley; and his first great-grandchild, Charlotte Elkins.
Over the course of his career, Ron traveled the globe and met three Presidents. His professional accomplishments were many, but his greatest joy in life was his family. In his later years, Ron was often heard to say that he was most proud of his family, and he lived his life without regrets.