Dr. Richard D. Ruppert, the third president of the former Medical College of Ohio who oversaw a period of tremendous growth at the school — in bricks and mortar, programs, and reputation — died Monday in New Orleans. He was 81.
He had accompanied his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Ruppert, to the national conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He had an apparent heart attack as he and his wife left their hotel and could not be revived, she said. He had experienced heart problems for some time, “but this was unexpected,” his wife said.
Dr. Ruppert retired in 1993 after 16 years as MCO president. He was on the board of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board from 1989-99, during which he was chairman for four years.
Most recently, he was a leader in efforts to reform Lucas County government.
“What motivated him? It was for the community,” said Thomas Palmer, another leader in the ongoing effort and a partner in the law firm of Marshall & Melhorn.
Dr. Ruppert was hired to lead MCO in 1977, succeeding Dr. Marion Anderson as president. The school’s first president was Dr. Glidden Brooks.
“He was passionate about making progress,” his wife said. “It was personally not a job. It was a commitment to make this a first-class medical college.”
When he arrived, MCO had in essence two campuses, few buildings, and had graduated only six medical classes. In his previous job as vice chancellor for health affairs at the Ohio Board of Regents, he helped win funding for an MCO Hospital. That building was not completed until late 1979.
Other multimillion-dollar building projects during his tenure included Dowling Hall and the Coghlin rehabilitation pavilion; the Kobacker Center; the Henry L. Morse Sports Center, and an ambulatory care center, which in 1993 the board of trustees named for Dr. Ruppert.
In addition, he oversaw several hundred full-time and part-time faculty members.
The school developed a school of nursing and of allied health and developed graduate programs under his watch. Its clinical and doctoral programs received accreditations.
“Dr. Ruppert more than anyone else built that campus,” said John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade. “He was the consummate politician, the perfect guy to get MCO built because he knew how to go to Columbus and get money. He knew how to pull the levers in Columbus.
“Dr. Ruppert was clearly a strong leader,” Mr. Block said. “Faculty are hard to manage in the best of situations, and Ruppert was a strong-willed administrator who got things done. You had faculty and department heads who absolutely loved him, and others who left because they couldn't work with him.”
He made MCO “into a real medical school,” said Allan Block, a former member of the MCO Board of Trustees who is chairman of Block Communications Inc., parent company of The Blade.
“It is my strong belief that Richard Ruppert made this a real school you could take seriously,” Mr. Block said. “There have been very few leaders of any kind in Toledo that combined ability in a profession with leadership and administrative ability and political ability. He had a broad range of skills you don't normally find in one person.
“He stood for excellence,” Allan Block said. “He knew how to hire top-level people and organize that as a team. He generated loyalty that was as high as I've seen in any organization.”
The first chairman of the MCO Board of Trustees was Paul Block, Jr., the late co-publisher of The Blade, and Allan and John Robinson Block’s father.
Dr. Ruppert was open to faculty ideas and to conversation, said Dr. S. Amjad Hussain, a retired Toledo surgeon and a professor of surgery emeritus.
“He strengthened the academic work at the institution,” Dr. Hussain said.
When Dr. Ruppert retired, MCO had 2,000 alumni physicians in 48 states, according to the spring, 1993, MCO Magazine. Many graduates of MCO's nursing and allied health schools stayed in Ohio, if not northwest Ohio, his wife said.
“His accomplishments have and will continue to earn real dividends for all of us in the area,” Dr. Elizabeth Ruppert said.
In 2006, MCO — by then called the Medical University of Ohio — and the University of Toledo merged.
“I was a friend and admirer of Dick Ruppert’s,” said Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, UT president who became the sixth president of MCO in 2003. “Dick Ruppert was one of the great leaders in our community.
“He had a wonderful vision and a driving ambition to achieve that vision — build a better world, a better Toledo, a better MCO,” Dr. Jacobs said.
His attributes included strong ideas and a strong personality, Dr. Jacobs said.
“We disagreed from time to time. He was reasonable, logical. Never was he discourteous,” Dr. Jacobs said.
The Toledo area remained home for the Rupperts, who have had homes in Ottawa Hills and on Catawba Island along Lake Erie.
In retirement, “he did not just gallop into the sunset,” Dr. Hussain said. The Rupperts “could have gone someplace else, but they both decided to stay in Toledo. He decided to contribute to the community. He’s an example for many of us.”
When he stepped down as port board chairman in 1997, he was lauded for his leadership there.
He helped shape the Regional Growth Partnership, an economic development agency, and oversaw renovation of the passenger terminal at Toledo Express Airport even as he worked behind the scenes with area businesses.
“Dick had vision in everything he did,” said Mr. Palmer, who after Dr. Ruppert’s term joined the port board and later became a board chairman. “He had courage and conviction to stand up for what he believed in. At the port, at the medical college, in the face of any challenge, he took it head on, out of commitment to the community.”
Dr. Ruppert was board president of the Fort Meigs Historical Society and a former board president of the Ohio Historical Society. He was on the board of the Hayes Presidential Center.
He was a former campaign chairman for the United Way of Greater Toledo and a former president of the Toledo Rotary Club.
He was born May 1, 1931, in Middletown, Ohio, to Paul and Sarah Elizabeth Ruppert. He was the sixth of 10 Ruppert children and worked on the family farm, helping out for five years after his 1949 graduation from Franklin, Ohio, High School. He was first in his class and class president. He went to Ohio State University to study agriculture and found an interest in science.
“He did exceedingly well in anatomy and chemistry and physics,” his wife said. “He’d always been a humanistic-oriented individual. He felt medicine was the right track, and he made the right decision.”
He continued his studies at Ohio State's college of medicine. He and his wife met in gross anatomy class.
After his 1961 medical school graduation, he became an internist with additional training in gastroenterology, his wife said.
His internship was at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago. Back at Ohio State, he became chief resident. He later was a professor of gastroenterology. His potential was noticed early on, and he was tapped for activities that were stepping stones to jobs in administration.
He was an assistant dean for the college of medicine, then medical director for patient services — and was the college's 1970 man of the year.
“He knew how to collaborate, and he knew how to lead,” his wife said.
He was the state board of regents’ vice chancellor for health affairs from 1974-1977.
He was a recipient in 2009 of a Jefferson Award for public service. He was in the halls of fame for his high school and for Ottawa Hills. In 2007, he was named a master fellow of the American College of Physicians.
At home, he was skilled at woodworking and home repair.
Surviving are his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Ruppert, whom he married Aug. 31, 1959; daughters, Victoria Ruppert Ridge, Elizabeth Morgan Ruppert, Rebecca Ruppert McMahon, and Julie Ruppert Schulte; sisters, Patricia Talbot, Libby Hannah Wade, and Nancy Ruppert; brothers, James Ruppert and Rupert Earl Ruppert, and seven grandchildren.