Dr. Gary W. Schabacker of El Paso, Texas, was born on Sep. 4, 1938, and passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family, on Dec. 26, 2017. He is survived by his wife, P.J., children Lynn, Victor, Glen, Paul, Steve, and Sarah, thirteen grandchildren, and one (soon to be two) great grandchildren. The family will be hosting a life remembrance celebration on Saturday, Feb. 17 at Ardovino’s Desert Crossing from 3 to 8 p.m.
Gary and his brother, Bob, grew up in Rockford, Illinois. Gary contracted polio as a boy, but overcame it and eventually became a competitive swimmer in high school. He studied accounting at Rockford College, but his passion was medicine, which his beloved Aunt Mary encouraged him to pursue. He graduated from the University of Illinois College of Medicine in 1964.
Upon receiving his medical license, Gary put his skills to use serving in the United States Army. He did a tour of duty in Vietnam from 1970 to 1971, commanding the 71st EVAC in Pleiku, Vietnam. He was recognized for his service with Army and Vietnam service medals.
First and foremost, Dr. Schabacker was a healer. Medicine was his calling, and he devoted his life to it with a fervent passion. His patients received care that was knowledgeable and compassionate. He treated so many people in El Paso that it was nigh impossible to go out with him and not have him run into a former patient who wanted to express their sincere gratitude for his care. Family lore has it that when his eldest child was on a train tour in Europe, she met a fellow traveler who was from El Paso and was a patient of his.
He was a beloved father and husband. Gary and P.J. opened their home to foster children for a time in the early 1970s, providing a stable and loving home to countless children in the foster system in addition to his own kids. A kind disciplinarian, he had high expectations for good behavior that his kids strove to meet, succeeding occasionally. He loved them fiercely and always guided them to a better way. He passed his wisdom, love and his impeccable work ethic on to his children.
As a business partner, his financial acumen rivaled his medical skills. His partner, Dr. Dick Harris, remembers first meeting Gary as a sharp-dressed young resident with his brass shining and his pants creased. Upon Gary’s return from his Army service in Vietnam, Dick remembers a very different man showing up in his office with long red hair and sandals on, but the same sharp surgical skills. Gary and Dr. Harris ran one of the finest surgical practices in El Paso and shared a successful partnership for 23 years. After Dr. Harris retired, Gary worked to establish El Paso Surgical Associates with many other prominent surgeons in the El Paso area. He finished his career specializing in breast care with the Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso Breast Care Center. Although many patients could not afford care, none were turned away and many were healed under his care.
He was a passionate outdoorsman who shared his love of fishing with anyone interested in learning. As adults, all his children can fish thanks to his instruction, but none can catch as well as he did. Summers and weekends were spent fishing, water skiing, hiking, and camping when he and P.J. weren’t rooting for their kids at soccer games and horse shows. As his children grew, he and P.J. traveled with family friends to explore the finest hikes in the country.
He will be remembered for many things, including his compassion, his sense of humor, his beautiful singing voice, his whistling skills, his curly red hair and distinctive mustache, and his passion for El Paso’s people and history. He’s now gone to see a man about a duck, and he wants all the men to be sure to get their prostates checked, and the women to do their breast exams!
His family requests that donations be made in his name to Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso Breast Care Center C/O Sandra Villagran RN.