A giant in South Texas health care and education has died.
Richard A. Garcia Jr., assistant vice president for South Texas programs at the Health Science Center, spent three decades expanding health opportunities for his beloved South Texas Border Region. An early champion of outreach services through the Area Health Education Centers he established, Garcia left a legacy that touched the lives of thousands of health professionals, students, educators and administrators. He died Tuesday, June 6, in San Antonio at age 64.
Garcia, born Sept. 22, 1941, in Brownsville, was instrumental in the Health Science Center’s program development in Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg, said Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president of the Health Science Center. The crowning touches, achieved in the past four years, were the establishment of the Health Science Center Laredo Campus Extension and the Health Science Center Regional Academic Health Center campuses in Harlingen and Edinburg.
“Richard Garcia embodied all that is good in the health care professions,” President Cigarroa said. “His visionary leadership, his success in establishing programs throughout the region, and his good-natured charm that made people want to work with him and each other all contributed to a remarkable career. We will not see his like again soon, and we will never forget the impact he had on this state, and on those who knew him personally.”
As important as his career was, Garcia’s love for his family was his top priority. He met his future wife, Georgia, while in college, and the couple married in May 1964. They had a remarkably loving and happy 42 years together. They were blessed with two children.
He also was a skilled pilot. Garcia learned to fly not only for personal enjoyment in the Commemorative Air Force, but also so that he could be more efficient in overseeing health programs in 38 counties of the South Texas Border Region. His understanding of the Border Region was invaluable in developing programs most suited to the region’s health professions education needs. “The thoughts and prayers of the entire Health Science Center community are with his wife and his family,” President Cigarroa said.
After service in the U.S. Marine Corps, Garcia majored in biology at St. Mary’s University and received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1964. He worked as a laboratory technician at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research while studying for a Master of Science degree in microbiology, which he received in 1967 from the University of the Incarnate Word.
He later would receive two other graduate degrees, a Master of Health Care Administration degree from Southwest Texas State University in 1976 and a Master of Public Health degree from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health in 1984.
In 1967, Garcia took a position doing leprosy research at the U.S. Public Health Hospital in Carville, La. While serving as the administrative assistant to the top medical officer at the hospital, his focus shifted to health care administration. “I really missed the lab work, but gradually I realized I was pretty good at administrative issues, and doing grant writing was a new experience,” he said in a 2005 interview with the San Antonio Business Journal. The publication did a story on Garcia upon naming him a 2005 Health Care Hero in the category of administrative excellence.
In 1973, Garcia returned to San Antonio to serve as director of outpatient services for the Bexar County Hospital District, now the University Health System. Three years later, he joined the Health Science Center as chief administrative officer of the department of obstetrics and gynecology. He worked there until the end of 1984, when he was named chief operating officer and vice president of operations for the Southwest Neuropsychiatric Institute, formerly known as the San Antonio Children’s Center.
In January 1991, he rejoined the Health Science Center as coordinator of the Area Health Education Centers program, and was a key player in the formative years of the South Texas Border Health Professions Education Initiative, a program established by the Texas Legislature. His effective consensus building, networking, budgeting and negotiating led to the establishment of continuing education and new degree programs from Del Rio to Brownsville and collaborative initiatives with universities in the northern Mexican states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon. He acquired more than $15 million in federal grants, foundation awards and state awards targeting health professional education and training programs.
In 1997, Garcia was cross-appointed as a research instructor in the Health Science Center department of pediatrics. In 2004, he was named an assistant vice president of the Health Science Center and executive director of the Center for South Texas Programs. His many honors and appointments included the National Health Services Corps Directors’ Award, the Outstanding Hispanic Faculty Award from the Health Science Center, distinction as an alumnus of Leadership San Antonio, and the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Texas State Guard.
Survivors include his wife, Georgia Garcia; his son, Steven Garcia, and daughter-in-law, Rose Garcia; his daughter, Audria Garcia; and two grandchildren, Kaiyana and Nicodemius Garcia.
Rosary was recited at 7 p.m. Sunday, June 11, at Mission Park Funeral Chapels North, 3401 Cherry Ridge. Mass was celebrated at 10 a.m. Monday, June 12, at St. Luke’s Catholic Church, 4603 Manitou. Garcia will be cremated, according to his wishes, and his ashes will be flown for the last time by the Commemorative Air Force. His ashes will be spread from the plane that he piloted in numerous air shows, a World War II vintage craft called The Yellow Rose.
Anyone who wishes to make a donation in Garcia’s memory may send it, at the family’s request, to the Richard Garcia Memorial Fund at the U.T. Health Science Center, 7703 Floyd Curl Drive, MC 7835, San Antonio, Texas 78229-3900, or to The Yellow Rose, care of Robert H. Gardner, 248 Galvin Drive, Seguin, Texas 78155.