Dr. Barbara Temeck spent most of her days caring for the nation’s veterans, succeeding for more than 35 years in two intensely male preserves, the surgical suite and the leadership of VA hospitals. Then she arrived in Cincinnati, where she endured trials Shakespearean in dimension: a staff mutiny, public humiliation and demotion; a resulting federal criminal trial, dismissal and a costly fight to keep her medical license.
Yet no matter the crisis, her band of Cincinnati friends marveled that with walks and books and prayer, the devout, ascetic Temeck stoked her hope of redemption. But it was on a walk before dawn Dec. 6 where Temeck met a final challenge.
Temeck told police that while on West McMillan Street in Clifton Heights, a man pushed her to the sidewalk and kicked her. At first, she did not seek medical care, but once hospitalized, she deteriorated, suffered a stroke and died Jan. 7 at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. She was 70.
“The strongest person I ever met,” Cincinnati neurologist Dr. Laura Sams called her friend. “Very few people would have the strength of will to go through what Barbara went through. But she had faith that justice would be served.”
Rising the ranks
Born June 30, 1950, in New York City, Barbara was the first of two Temeck daughters. As a teenager, she endured a bout of tuberculosis that scarred her lungs. She earned her bachelor’s degree at New York University in 1972 and her medical degree at Georgetown University in 1976. She entered the fraternity of cardiothoracic surgery at the renowned cancer center of Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City.
By 33, she was chief of cardiac surgery at the Washington, D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Before 40, Temeck had worked as a manager at half a dozen VAs. For nine years, she was chief of staff at the Edward J. Hines VA Medical Center in Chicago, and when she left in 2010, colleagues jammed a massive scrapbook with hand-written tributes to her leadership and acts of kindness.
Temeck maintained a surgery schedule and performed research for at least 50 publications. She cared for her father in her home until his death, but she told The Enquirer that she most cared about the VA. “We’re all here at the VA to deliver the best possible care for veterans. That’s all I want.”
Chronically underweight and barely 5 feet tall, Temeck lived in small apartments within walking distance to her VA hospital. She cared little for clothes and wore her long hair looped and pinned at the back of her neck.