• March 2018

    In Memoriam: W. Mark Armstrong, MD

“My Doctor” a tribute by Michael Emmett, MD

Rachel and I arrived in Dallas 42 years ago when I began to work at Baylor University Medical Center, part of Baylor Scott & White Health, as a nephrologist. I quickly started to work with the residents, one of whom was Nancy, and I soon met her husband, Mark, a newly trained internist on the staff. Over the ensuing years Rachel, Nancy, Mark and I became close friends, and we took many wonderful vacations together.

In the mid-1990s John Fordtran, MD, Baylor Dallas’ Chief of Medicine, decided to create a new teaching position – the John Binion Professor of General Internal Medicine. He asked the advice of the Medical Advisory Committee, of which I was a member, and there was really only one person we would consider, and that was, of course, Mark.

Mark was the embodiment of what it means to be a doctor. He had that Southern small-town personality combined with a razor-sharp intellect and incredible memory. Yes, he could review all the lab results and X-rays and make a diagnosis, and he was an excellent physical diagnostician. But he could just look at you and tell if you were really sick or not. He was a real doctor’s doctor!

He also became the doctor and father figure to our residents for over 40 years. He cared for them and their families and was their role model. When I walked down the halls of Baylor with Mark, which I did almost every day, it was always a special experience. People were always coming up and hugging him – doctors, nurses, aides, cooks, painters, transporters. People of every religion and of none. They were all members of his huge patient family. And he knew all of them by name and asked about their kids and their families. And there was nothing phony about it – he really cared and really wanted to know. And he always gave them a loving bear hug back. He was simply amazing!

In 1996, I became the chief of Medicine at Baylor Dallas, and Mark was my associate program director. What a people person he was. Every year we interview over 200 applicants for residency positions, and our committee reviews their grades and standardized board scores and letters of recommendation. Mark did that, but what he loved to focus on were their personal statements. He read every one, and he remembered almost everything about each of the applicant’s stories. Mark really wanted to know what made people tick – and he remembered it all!

In his interview with Bill Roberts, MD, which is available online and is a wonderful retrospective of his life, Mark said, “I don’t have any official hobbies. I have no retirement skills.” He wanted to be a physician for his entire life, and he was.

Whenever Mark was hospitalized, it was always on the teaching service so that his trainee “children” could provide his care. It’s so very difficult to care for a very ill physician colleague, but I know his “kids” were honored to be their mentor’s doctors, and they did a wonderful job.

I feel very confident that when Mark took his very last breath, he was comfortable knowing that he had lived a wonderful and love-filled life, that his family was secure, that his reputation among the physician community locally, throughout Texas and across the country was stellar and that he was deeply loved and revered by the hundreds of physicians he had trained and the thousands of patients, including me, who were privileged to call Mark Armstrong “My Doctor.”