If you had to bet on one thing, you could always bet on Dr. Richard Curtis Pillsbury, Sr. to be ready to tell you a joke. He often began conversations with “so, have you heard the one about…,” and, even if you had heard that one, you said “no” to hear it again with his perfect delivery and then deep, rolling belly laugh. It wasn’t only his jokes he was known for; he could masterfully tell a story or relay what happened in an evening in a way that could captivate any audience.
He was known by many as Dr. P., but that was one of many nicknames he had. Born in 1945 to Jane and Robert Pillsbury, he was known as “Dick” until middle school. There, three other “Richards” had that nickname, so the teacher assigned new ones. He went by “Rick” from that day on.
The oldest of four, he and his two brothers, James and Robert, and one sister, Patricia, grew up on military bases from Panama to Pennsylvania and dozens of places in between.
He received a football scholarship to the University of Maryland, where he spent his freshman year studying abroad in Germany. He traveled throughout Europe and Western Africa during his time abroad. He returned to the U.S. and suited up for the Terrapins football team, only to have his playing career cut short by a young Larry Csonka. He often joked how it was like being hit by a freight train. He finished that semester in the hospital with massive knee injuries.
He transferred to Trinity University in San Antonio, where he not only earned dual degrees in history and biology but met his future wife, Janey Stuart, whom he married in 1970 as a young medical student at the University of Texas, San Antonio. He often said he was attracted to her femininity and strength. She quickly learned never to let him fix appliances.
Following in the footsteps of many generations of Pillsbury Army doctors, Rick was commissioned into the U.S. Army, which paid for medical school. An internship in El Paso was followed by a residency at Walter Reed in Washington, D.C. It was there that the first two of three children were born, Kimberly and Richard, before a move to Fort Campbell in Kentucky, where he was the only ENT for 150,000 troops.
Fresh out of the Army and board certified in Otolaryngology, the then family of four settled down in El Dorado, Ark., and became a family of five after Megan was born. It was there that Rick – with Janey managing – opened his medical practice and, for more than 30 years, treated approximately 50,000 patients’ ears, noses and throats. He quickly gained a reputation across the region as a master diagnostician.
He also completed a stint as the Medical Center of South Arkansas’s Chief of Surgery and was a member of several professional organizations, but he made coaching countless softball, soccer and T-ball teams and supporting two daughters through more than 15 years of dance recitals a priority. He was front and center at almost every game, spelling bee and cheerleading competition.
Toward the end of his career, he added a new nickname to the list: “Babbo.” It’s Italian for “father” and the name he earned when he became a grandfather to the first of four grandchildren.
An interest in art and painting also emerged later in life, but it wasn’t until after retirement that he started honing those storytelling skills further and crafted what would become his recently published novel, The Time-Traveling Texan.
Rick is survived by his wife of 50 years, Janey, and their three children and spouses: Kimberly Pillsbury Steele and Nelson Steele; Richard C. Pillsbury, Jr. and Sarah Donley Pillsbury; and Megan Pillsbury Hollis and Ryan Hollis.
He is also survived by his younger brothers, James Pillsbury and Robert Pillsbury, and sister, Patricia Pillsbury Truitt, as well as four grandchildren: Joseph Richmond Pillsbury, Serena Blaine Pillsbury, Charlotte Ryan Hollis and Greyson Stuart Hollis.
Devoted husband, loving father and grandfather, avid joke and storyteller, loyal friend and trusted physician, it is no doubt that the world is less of a joyful place now that Rick Pillsbury is gone. He will be greatly missed.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you please make a donation in his name to Life Touch Hospice in El Dorado, Ark., or the Sarah Cannon Fund at American Cancer Society in Nashville, Tenn.
Online condolences may be expressed at www.youngsfuneralhome.com