Dr. Richard Wooters Obituary

Dr. Richard C.  Wooters
Dr. Richard C. Wooters
Dr. Richard C. Wooters

January 18, 1925 - December 31, 2010
Born in Des Moines, IA
Resided in Windsor Heights, IA
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Dr. Richard Curtis Wooters, long-time medical examiner who broke news of the deaths of loved ones with compassion to thousands of Polk County families, died late Friday after a brief illness.

He was 85.

Once called a "gentle man in a world of grief and violence," Wooters investigated murders, suicides, accidental deaths, unattended and unexpected deaths; more than 20, 000 altogether.

"I hope I am remembered for being caring,' he said in an interview.

Wooters retired in 1995. He became deputy medical examiner in Polk County in1966 and chief medical examiner in 1973.

Wooters, who died at Bishop Drumm Home in Johnston, did not fear death, but confessed that he hoped to die "easily."

"I see death two or three times a day, day in and day out," he said in an interview. "If I didn't have a solid faith I couldn't handle that. I think there is more to life than what we see here."

A member of Windsor Heights Lutheran Church since 1952, Wooters said he always tried to tell survivors that their loved ones died easily, "if I could say it honestly."

Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Westover Funeral Home, 6337 Hickman Road. The funeral will be at 3 p.m., Thursday at Windsor Heights Lutheran Church, 1240 66th St., Windsor Heights.

Former WHO-TV and KCCI-TV news reporter Rick Swalwell, said of Dr. Wooters, "He was probably the most compassionate human being I've ever met in my life."
Once when Swalwell was introducing Wooters during a television program, Swalwell explained that he could not be objective where Wooters was concerned. "I said something like, `He's a great guy. And how can you not have strong personal feelings for the person who whacked you on the fanny when you were born?' "

As a private practice doctor, Wooters not only delivered Swalwell, but several years later sewed his leg back together after a serious sledding accident. And later, when Swalwell was about 26 years old and learned his father had died unexpectedly, Wooters helped him break the news to Swalwell's mother.

"He was very gentle, very kind and always knew just what to say," said Swalwell. "He got along well with the families, rescue workers, the police, and the news media in some high stress, very uncomfortable situations."

One of the worst kept secrets about Wooters was that he slept in his clothes in a living room easy chair most nights so he wouldn't have to dress and undress when called out to check on a death.

The former Des Moines Tribune newspaper once ran a photograph of Wooters napping in his chair with his shoes off, a hole in his sock evident in the foreground.

The late Lee Williams, former fire chief in Des Moines, enjoyed the photo so much he had it enlarged into a poster and he gave it to Wooters as a present. Wooters made the poster a focal point of his Windsor Heights home, assigning it to a prominent spot above a living room window.

A native of Des Moines, Wooters was named to the Halls of Fame of North High School and Warren Harding Middle School. He completed undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Iowa.

He was fond of saying he went through school "by the sweat of my Frau," which meant his wife, Luci, a nurse, worked while he studied. They married Aug. 5, 1944 when he was 19.

Easily identified around Polk County by his Cadillacs and Lincoln Towncars with the license plate MED EX or MEDXMNR, Wooters was an uncommon mix of a humble man in a high profile job.

His interest in the news was not accidental. His father, Leland Wooters was a Des Moines newspaper reporter, who met his mother, Hope Harris Wooters, while she was employed at the Polk County Courthouse.

At North High School, where Wooters "either graduated 19th in a class of 320 or 20th in a class of 319," he served as a photographer for the school newspaper.

He gave up his private medical practice in 1979 after 30 years. Wooters became known as "R.C." because of the way he signed death certificates to save time. To old friends he was known simply as "Dick."

Informed several years ago that he was being interviewed for his obituary, Wooters said, "I'm flattered."

And then he mentioned his morphine addiction, which he kicked in the mid-1970s after more than 20 years. Wooters, a man who paid attention to detail, said even that dark secret, which didn't come to light until 1977, was a part of his life that could not be ignored.
Wooters found pleasure in several professional memberships and frequent seminars, in travel and dining at restaurants. But following a mild stroke from complications of diabetes in March 1994, he was placed on a strict diet.

While he was medical examiner Wooters lectured at Drake University, Des Moines University-Osteopathic Medical Center, Des Moines Area Community College, AIB College of Business and to fire departments across Iowa. He regularly talked to law classes, biology classes, religion and criminal justice classes.

Wooters avoided euphemisms for the word `death.'

"A rabbi told me once that there were at least two acceptable four-letter words and they were `died,' and `dead,'" Wooters said.

Wooters is survived by his wife of 66 years, Lucille, and their children: Joan (Tim Mlsna) Fumetti of Dubuque, David (Laurie) Soures Wooters of Rochester, N.Y. and Patti (Jim) Verlengia of Johnston. He is also survived by four grandchildren: Toni (Christopher) White, Andy Verlengia, Chris (Ayden) Verlengia, Charles Wooters; two great-grandchildren: Cameron and Luci White; and his brother, James L. Wooters.

Memorial contributions may be made to Windsor Heights Lutheran Church or Bishop Drumm Retirement Center.


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Westover Funeral Home
6337 Hickman Road
Des Moines, IA US 50322
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
4:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Windsor Heights Lutheran Church
1240 - 66th Street
Des Moines, IA US 50311
Thursday, January 6, 2011
3:00 PM


Windsor Heights Lutheran Church
1240 66th Street
Windsor Heights, IA US 50322