Cover photo for Sr Robert Heyburn M.D. Bullington's Obituary
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Sr Robert Heyburn M.D. Bullington

Robert H. Bullington, Sr. passed away peacefully on September 8, 2023. He was the first physician in Arizona to start a practice strictly limited to the specialty of cardiology, and was in private practice with his brother, Dan, from 1956 to 1994. He was born on September 21, 1926 in Fort Smith, Arkansas to Robert S. and Frances Heyburn Bullington. He had a very active childhood and enjoyed all games and sports from marbles to baseball to boxing. Bob liked dogs and riding horses, and was an altar boy, newspaper boy, and Boy Scout. His major premedical education was at Spring Hill College (Jesuit), Mobile, Alabama. His medical school, internship, and residency training were at Tulane University, New Orleans. He served as a U.S. Air Force cardiologist with the rank of Captain from 1954 to 1956.

He organized and ran the first heart meeting of national interest in the state of Arizona in 1957. As an annual meeting it attracted heart specialists and other physicians from around the U.S.A. and Canada. It was used as a model for heart meetings by the American Heart Association in New York City and was later turned over to the University of Arizona Heart Center. He was President of the medical staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Chief of Cardiology at Maricopa County Hospital, President of Maricopa County and Arizona Heart Associations, and Senior Consultant at the University of Arizona Heart Center.

In January, 1965, Bob and his brother, J. Daniel Bullington, M.D., founded the first Coronary Intensive Care Unit in the southwestern United States at St. Joseph’s Hospital. He was also a member of Phoenix Country Club, Knights of Columbus, Sigma Alpha Epsilon College Fraternity, and Phi Chi Medical Fraternity. He was a member of the American Medical Association, the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons, the American College of Physicians, and was a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology.

He loved the practice of medicine, especially working with his brother who always demonstrated great wisdom and a wonderful sense of humor. Bob always thought of Dan as his lifetime best friend. They had a very large medical practice and saw patients of all ages and incomes, from the very poor to the very rich. As many doctors and hospitals did in those days, he and his brother never turned away a patient because of money and enjoyed doing charity work. Much of their work involved teaching medical students, interns, and resident physicians. Bob had great optimism and never gave up on a patient or a worthy cause. He liked to remind himself and others that the progress of mankind’s standard of living has been steadily upward; that such things as antibiotics, vaccines to prevent diseases, and anesthesia for surgery and the relief of pain are relatively new in the history of the world; that the poorest Americans are much better off than kings and queens in years of old; that we all should be grateful to God for all His blessings and that we should appreciate health and happiness much more than riches and fame.

After Bob retired, he enjoyed spending much of his time helping to care for his parents, Robert & Frances Bullington of Scottsdale, who lived well into their mid-nineties. It gave him a great feeling to show gratitude to them for all the care and devotion they gave him throughout his life. He also enjoyed working on family real estate with his parents and brother, and later with his wife and children. He cared greatly for his patients, and he was interested in keeping up with them and new medical developments all the rest of his life. Using a cardiac resuscitation technique developed at the University of Arizona Heart Center, Bob felt privileged to save the same man twice in the same year (9 months apart) from death with a severe heart attack causing cardiac arrest on the golf course. The man lived fourteen more years. The case drew national attention and helped to spread the University of Arizona resuscitation technique internationally. His lifetime hobbies included golf, tennis, hunting, fishing, ballroom dancing, spectator sports, and real estate. Bob especially enjoyed time with his children and grandchildren. Some highlights of those years were hosting big family parties with Julie, especially on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Easter. He loved to teach his grandchildren outdoor sports and games and to have them over to spend the night and watch favorite childhood movies such as “King Kong”. He was always very happy hearing from family, old friends, and patients. He loved to show gratitude to the many people and institutions who helped him throughout his life. Bob liked people and enjoyed being with them, ranging from those he knew well to complete strangers. He especially enjoyed sharing a laugh with other people who also saw the humor in the simple things of everyday life. He said it made each day happier.

He is survived by his wife, Julia Duffey Bullington, 6 children: Ann Bullington Hermens (husband Paul, children Stephen and Ryan); Robert, Jr. (wife Cynthia, children Catherine, Susan and Robert III); Michael (wife Betty, children Anne Marie and Jeanne Anne); Mary Bullington Williams (husband Craig, children Matthew, John, Thomas and Michael); John (wife Heidi, children Daniel, Molly, Jack and Frances “Kiki”); Stephen (wife Lisa, children Kate, Paul, Jane Frances, Thomas Robert and Lucy); two stepchildren: Kathleen Wunch (son Michael Kasey) and Norleen Cheser, (children Nicholas, Jacob and Heidi). He is also survived by his brother, Dr. J. Daniel Bullington (wife JoEllen, children Laura Jo Wentworth and Elizabeth Lorenz).

The family would like to thank the compassionate team of Cyhrene, Ariel, Jayson, April and Raymond for the loving care and kindness they gave to our dad.

Visitation will be on Thursday, September 14, 2023 from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm at Whitney & Murphy Funeral Home, 4800 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix. Funeral mass will be held on Saturday, September 16, 2023 at 11:00 am at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church,  4715 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix.  A reception will follow in Anderson Hall. A private burial will take place at St. Francis Catholic Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the following memorial donations will be greatly appreciated by the family: St. Vincent DePaul Society; Sisters of Mercy; Creighton University School of Medicine, Phoenix; Hillsdale College; Mayo Foundation or a charity of your choice.
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