In Memoriam: Richard R. Rahr, 1942-2019

Richard Rahr

Past PAEA President Richard Rahr receives an award to mark the end of his presidency. Photo: PAEA

PAEA and the PA education community mourn the passing of one of the profession’s most influential early leaders and most committed educators. Richard R. Rahr passed away at his home in Fredericksburg, Texas, on February 8. He is survived by his wife, Virginia, two daughters, and two grandchildren. He was interred February 13 in Fredericksburg.

Rahr was a strong presence in PAEA and its forerunner, the Association of PA Programs (APAP), throughout his long career in PA education, serving as the Association’s president in 1994 and in countless roles on committees and task forces. He received the APAP Outstanding Service Award in 1996 and the 2000 AAPA Educator of the Year award, among more than 30 honors he received over his career.

“Richard was incredibly dedicated to the Association and an example to all of us of someone who was always seeking to learn and understand,” said PAEA CEO Timi Agar Barwick. “He was always courteous, positive, and inclusive — a true gentleman. He will be missed by his many friends in the PA program family.”

Rahr became a PA in 1975, after a brief career as a radiologic technician, and almost immediately joined the faculty of the University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston PA program, where he taught until his retirement in 2012, the last 30 years as program director or department chair. He was a lifelong learner, earning his MBA in 1981 and his EdD in 1987. His lengthy CV attested to his wide-ranging scholarly interests, his ability to secure grant funding for his program, and his commitment to teaching, leadership, and mentoring both students and faculty. The number of former UTMB faculty who have gone on to leadership positions in other programs is a testament to Rahr’s commitment to mentoring the next generation.

Something of a pioneer in distance education, Rahr spearheaded one of the first satellite programs in the country in 1994, at UT-Panam in the Rio Grande Valley — now the UT Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) PA program. The area was then medically underserved in the extreme, with only six PAs among a handful of other clinicians. There are now more than 450 PAs, and 85 percent of UTRGV graduates remain in the area, according to Frank Ambriz, recruited by Rahr in 1992 to coordinate the new program and still its director today. “He was a marvelous person, a real mentor to me,” said Ambriz. “He saw a big need for more access to health care down in the valley and he secured a HRSA grant to make the satellite program happen.”

Ambriz also saw ample evidence of the hard work that Rahr was known for — a long-running joke at his program was that faculty knew he was on vacation when he came to work without a tie. When the satellite program reached the end of its five-year original agreement and was applying for independent accreditation, Rahr spent six weeks living in the student dorm at UT-Panam, making sure the ARC-PA application was watertight, Ambriz recalled. “He worked us 16 hour days, making sure every i was dotted and t crossed.” He also overnighted VHS tapes of lectures from Galveston to Panam when the early T-1 fiber optic lines malfunctioned, which happened frequently, Ambriz said. The student society at UT Panam is still named after Rahr.

Donations may be made to the Dr. Richard R. Rahr Physician Assistant Memorial Scholarship, by mail to: UTMB Health, 301 University Blvd., Galveston TX, 77555-0148; or call the UTMB Development Office at 409-772-5140.