In Memoriam: Charles A. Rockwood Jr., MD, legendary orthopaedic educator and EMS founder

Photo of Charles A. Rockwood Jr., MD, legendary orthopaedic surgeon at UT Health San Antonio

Please note: This post has been updated with a revised date and time of memorial services.

Contact: Will Sansom, 210-567-2579,

SAN ANTONIO (Feb. 8, 2022) — Renowned orthopaedic surgeon Charles A. Rockwood Jr., MD, died Feb. 1 at age 92 after a 60-year career in San Antonio. Joining the UT medical school faculty in San Antonio in 1966, he was one of the medical school’s founding faculty members, retiring just two years ago. The medical school today is called the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine and is part of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio).

Orthopaedic surgeon Charles A. Rockwood Jr., MD, authored many textbooks. Coauthors included Kaye E. Wilkins, MD, DVM, and David P. Green, MD, of the Department of Orthopaedics in the Long School of Medicine.

As the head of orthopaedics at UT Health San Antonio for more than 20 years, Dr. Rockwood trained nearly 300 orthopaedic resident physicians. Later specializing in shoulder surgery, he became an internationally known consultant and mentored numerous shoulder fellows both stateside and abroad. He co-edited three major textbooks during his career still in use by orthopaedists worldwide, including the sentinel “Fractures,” now in its 11th edition. As an innovator, he devised several groundbreaking prosthetic devices for shoulder surgery while at UT Health San Antonio, and as a lecturer he traveled worldwide for more than 40 years. He was the president of several national orthopaedic associations, always with a special emphasis on education and research.

In the early 1970s, Dr. Rockwood was the driving force in organizing the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) program in San Antonio. Serving as its first medical director, this forever changed the landscape of emergency care in the city. In addition, the textbook that he helped publish, “Emergency Care and Transportation of the Sick and Injured,” became the standard reference for EMS training curriculums throughout the country and remains important to this day.

“Dr. Rockwood was one of the most influential, revered and enduring figures in the field of orthopaedic surgery,” said Robert H. Quinn, MD, professor and chairman of orthopaedics in the Long School of Medicine. “His name, inventions and textbooks will persist for decades to come. As one of the founding faculty members of our school, the first orthopaedic division chief and later the first orthopaedic department chair, Dr. Rockwood created one of the legacy programs in orthopaedics nationally and internationally. That reputation persists today. As a beloved mentor, leader, innovator and inspiration to many in the orthopaedic profession and beyond, Dr. Rockwood will eternally represent the soul of our department.”

The following obituary was submitted by Andrew Rockwood, MD, son of Dr. Charles Rockwood. Dr. Andrew Rockwood is a 1981 alumnus of the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio.

Charles Adelbert  Rockwood Jr.

September 19, 1929 – February 1, 2022

American orthopaedics lost one of its brightest lights on Feb. 1, 2022 with the passing of Charles A. Rockwood Jr., MD.

photo of Dr. Charles Rockwood and Dr. William Henrich, 2016
Charles A. Rockwood Jr., MD, accepts the 50-year service award from UT Health San Antonio President William L. Henrich, MD, MACP, left, in 2016.

Born in Oklahoma City on Sept. 19, 1929 to Charles A. and Dorothy Rockwood, he attended Classen High School and then Oklahoma City University for pre-med studies. It is ironic that the man who was to contribute so much to American medicine was not initially accepted into medical school, but after doing graduate work in Norman, Okla., for a year, he entered the University of Oklahoma Medical School and graduated in 1956. He served a one-year internship at Gorgas Hospital in the Panama Canal Zone, then returned to Oklahoma City to complete a U.S. Air Force-sponsored orthopaedic surgery residency under the tutelage of Dr. Don O’Donoghue, pioneer knee surgeon and one of the fathers of American sports medicine. He then spent five years at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio and remained in the Air Force reserve, eventually retiring as a Full Colonel.

When his active-duty commitment was fulfilled in 1966, Dr. Rockwood became the third member of the surgical faculty at the new medical school in San Antonio and was hired as chief of the Division of Orthopaedics. During his years at the medical school, his vision and commitment to education were instrumental in the publication of three major orthopaedic textbooks that have been used worldwide and have been updated in multiple revised editions over the past 40 years. As one of the premier shoulder surgeons in the world, his shoulder fellowship attracted applicants from many states and foreign countries. He was also the major force in founding San Antonio’s emergency care system, establishing the curriculum that has trained hundreds of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).

photo of Dr. Rockwood
Dr. Charles Rockwood revolutionized shoulder surgery.

In the late 1980s, he worked with DePuy Orthopaedics to develop a total shoulder replacement system and performed the first implantation of the Global Total Shoulder in the summer of 1990. Within one year, the Global Total Shoulder system became the leading total shoulder arthroplasty system in the U.S and would become the worldwide market leader in shoulder arthroplasty systems. This was attributable to Dr. Rockwood’s insistence on surgeon education and the many unique features of the Global system that are now commonly seen on most implants.

Dr. Rockwood was a past president of both the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and its fundraising arm, the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation. He was a founding member and later president of the American Shoulder and Elbow Society. In 1996 his many accomplishments were recognized by his induction into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. He was an honorary fellow in the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, Scotland, and received the American-British-Canadian Fellowship Award in 1967.

He was very proud to have achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in 1945 and was recognized as an Outstanding Eagle Scout by the National Eagle Scout Association and a Distinguished Eagle Scout by the Boy Scouts of America. Five of his sons and two of his grandsons also became Eagle Scouts, and whenever an applicant to the orthopaedic residency program at UT Health San Antonio listed on his application that he had been an Eagle Scout, that candidate jumped to the top of the rank list.

A devout Catholic, Dr. Rockwood was a member of Holy Spirit Catholic Church and later St. Luke’s Catholic Church, involving himself in many Catholic charities and activities. He was an avid golfer, camper and outdoorsman and enjoyed playing golf at Oak Hills Country Club, and prioritized playing golf at famous golf courses during his worldwide travels. His happiest moments, however, were at the annual Rockwood Family camping trip at the Frio River, a tradition they’ve enjoyed for more than 50 years.

Dr. Rockwood was preceded in death by his parents and his wife of 46 years, Patsy Flanagan Rockwood, as well as his eldest son, Charles A. Rockwood III. He is survived by his sister, Regina Gallus; eight children and their spouses: Mark and Gaylyn Rockwood, Dr. Andrew and Melissa Rockwood, Steven and Teresa Rockwood, Peter and Stacey Rockwood, Paul Rockwood, Jeff and Amy Rockwood, David and Christy Rockwood, and Brad and Virginia Rockwood Savage; 19 grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; numerous nieces and nephews; and former wife Jane Yarbrough Rockwood. Despite his many achievements, awards and contributions to the field of orthopaedics, Charley always considered his family to be his major accomplishment and greatest blessing, and he was more proud of them than anything else in his life.

Memorial services for Dr. Rockwood will be Thursday, Feb. 24, at St. Luke’s Catholic Church, 4603 Manitou Drive, San Antonio. Rosary will be at 1:30 p.m., Mass at 2 p.m. and a reception will follow.

The Rockwood family is grateful to these caregivers for their tireless support: Laura Sosa Lopez, Letty Bonilla, Luis Delrosario, Martha Roballar, Chrystal Vieux and Amalia Rodriguez, as well as his home health provider, Michael Lichtenstein, MD, a longtime geriatrics faculty member and clinician in the Long School of Medicine.

If desired, memorial contributions may be made to SAMMinistries.

Watch a Founding Faculty video with Dr. Rockwood filmed in 2010.

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