Editor’s note: Each day through Aug. 20 the Tucson Citizen will provide glimpses into the lives of famous Tucsonans and random highlights in the history of the Old Pueblo.
Richard Carmona isn’t a native of the Old Pueblo, but he lived and worked here for nearly two decades, and we claim the former surgeon general as a genuine Tucsonan.
He was, in fact, born in the Harlem neighborhood in New York City to Puerto Rican immigrant parents. He grew up in circumstances that would seem unlikely to produce a physician, a SWAT officer and holder of the nation’s top medical position.
He was expelled three times from ninth grade in the Bronx; was a member of a gang, the Social Lords; and dropped out of school. He joined the Army and became a combat medic in Vietnam – leaving the Army after being wounded for the third time. He also earned his General Education Development degree (GED), signaling a turnaround in his life.
He earned an associate of arts degree at Bronx Community College and bachelor of science and medical degrees at University of California at San Francisco. At the University of Arizona, he earned a master’s degree in health policy and administration.
He and his wife, Diana Sanchez, moved to Tucson in 1985 when he accepted a position as clinical professor of surgery at the University of Arizona. From 1985 to 1993, he served as director of trauma services at Tucson Medical Center and, in 1986, became surgeon for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, a deputy and a member of the Special Weapons and Tactics team.
In that capacity, he was shot in the upper thigh in a fatal SWAT shootout in 1988; performed a daring rescue in the Pinaleño Mountains by rappelling from a helicopter; in 1999 returned fire, killing a suspect who earlier in the day had slain his own father; and in 2000 received a “Top Cops” award from National Association of Police Organizations.
He was chairman of the Southern Regional Emergency Medical System, received the Physician of the Year award from Pima County Medical Society in 1993 and was medical director and chief executive officer of Kino Community Hospital 1995-1999.
He was nominated for the post of surgeon general by President George W. Bush and confirmed for the post on July 23, 2002.
IF YOU GO
What: “How the Presidio Vanished,” a history of Tucson outgrowing the original Presidio.
When: Friday, 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Where: Courtyard of The Old Courthouse, 115 N. Church Ave.
Sponsor: Old Pueblo Walking Tours.
Information: Call Ken Scoville, 358-8500.
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