Donald K. Buffmire, M.D., the Foundation’s longest-serving charter trustee, passed away on July 2, 2008, at age 85. He served on the board for 36 years, including 14 as its chair. He will be remembered to many for his gentlemanly demeanor, selfless giving, and role as patriarch of the Flinn Foundation during its growth years.
“Don Buffmire led a storybook life,” said author Dean Smith, who captured the Foundation’s history in the Flinn Legacy. “He was a man of quiet passion, impeccable integrity, and life experiences that could light up the silver screen.”
“All-American” is a title befitting of Dr. Buffmire’s life. He earned that honor at Northwestern University while playing in the same backfield as Otto Graham, who became a legendary NFL quarterback and lifelong buddy. Off the gridiron, Dr. Buffmire captained the college track team, served as president of his Sigma Chi fraternity, and prepared diligently for entrance in medical school, also at Northwestern. Fortunately for Arizona, he stayed true to his dream of becoming a doctor, turning down an offer to play for the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals.
He married his college sweetheart, Jane Enkema; earned his M.D. degree at Northwestern; interned at Evanston Hospital in Evanston, Illinois; completed a three-year residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota; and served two years as a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. In 1954, he moved his wife and three children to Arizona to open Phoenix Medical Associates with a Northwestern colleague and Mayo fellow, Ashton Taylor. He practiced there until retiring in 1992. Today, the group is part of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale.
Meeting Dr. Flinn
Soon after arriving in Phoenix, Dr. Buffmire befriended leading cardiologist and philanthropist Dr. Robert S. Flinn. Before long, Dr. Flinn asked his protege to cover his patient load during his extensive travels with his wife, Irene. This included duties as “house doctor” at the Biltmore Estates, leading to a clientele of celebrities and dignitaries that became a hallmark of Dr. Buffmire’s career.
When Dr. and Mrs. Flinn established the Flinn Foundation in 1965, they appointed Dr. Buffmire as a trustee—and asked him to lead the Foundation when they were gone. That day arrived in 1984, following Dr. Flinn’s death, and Mrs. Flinn’s earlier passing in 1978. During his 14-year chairmanship, Dr. Buffmire presided over the growth of the Foundation’s assets from a modest philanthropy to the largest in the state at the time with assets of more than $165 million. Under his leadership, the Foundation focused attention on the state’s health care needs; supported excellence in biomedical research; brought university and student achievements to new heights through the Flinn Scholars program; and empowered arts institutions to heighten creativity and stabilize financially.
“Don Buffmire’s endeavors are woven into the fabric of the state of Arizona,” said David J. Gullen, M.D., current chair of the Flinn Foundation board. “He had a profound impact on his patients as a result of his compassionate care, and a broad impact on the state through his philanthropic leadership.”
A Career of Service
Dr. Buffmire garnered numerous awards, both in medicine and philanthropy. A few examples are the prestigious Laureate Award of the American College of Physicians; the “Service to Society” award of Northwestern University; the President’s Award in Recognition of Distinguished Service by the Arizona Medical Association; the Doctor Clarence Salsbury Award of Maricopa County Medical Society for Distinguished Public Service; the Doctor Joseph E. Ehrlich Medal by the Maricopa County Medical Society; and the Directors Award by St. Joseph’s Hospital for Commitment to the Education of Young Physicians. He also earned Northwestern’s Service to Society award; the Significant Sig award from his college fraternity, Sigma Chi; and was inducted into the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame.
He served for 40 years as a trustee of Blood Systems, Inc., including a term as president. Blood Systems is the nation’s largest nonprofit blood service organization exclusive of the Red Cross. He served as president of the Arizona Heart Association, chief of staff of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, and a member of Greater Phoenix Leadership. He was a fellow of the American College of Physicians, American College of Chest Physicians, and Royal Society of Medicine, and served the American Heart Association and American Medical Association.
In recognition of his many leadership contributions to the Foundation, the board in 1997 established and funded the Donald K. Buffmire Visiting Lectureship in Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. The program brought distinguished physician educators to Arizona for a week to meet with medical students and faculty in both Tucson and Phoenix. Earlier this year, the lectureship was expanded to include two guest lecturers each year. It is a gift that will remind future generations of young physicians of Dr. Buffmire’s legacy.
Dr. Buffmire is survived by Jane, his wife of 63 years, three children, 13 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
Memorial services are scheduled for Saturday, July 19, 10 a.m., at Orangewood Presbyterian Church, 7321 N. 10th Street, Phoenix.