Dr. Richard T. Sarkin, so passionate about medicine and teaching, was carrying out that love on his way to a medical conference when he was killed in an airplane crash Tuesday night, his friends and colleagues said Wednesday.
The body of Sarkin, 54, a pediatrician from Amherst, was among those recovered from the wreckage of a commuter plane crash that killed 13 in Kirksville, Mo., about 220 miles northwest of St. Louis.
Over the years, the Amherst pediatrician and University at Buffalo professor made a name for himself by teaching doctors how to teach and was scheduled to lecture at a symposium in Missouri when the plane went down, said Dr. Rick Morin, Sarkin's friend and colleague.
"He was very skilled at engaging the learner, and he could do that at the bedside or in an audience with 100 people," Morin said. "He was just an outstanding teacher. That really was his passion."
Family was the other. Sarkin and his wife, Marcia, have two children, Alex, 16, and Jessica, a freshman in college. Members of the family were unavailable to comment Wednesday.
Sarkin enjoyed playing soccer, basketball and golf. He had a pretty sarcastic wit, too, which also put him on the receiving end of friends' jokes, friends recalled.
For example, Sarkin, a former science teacher, had earned the nickname "Kohoutek," after taking one of his classes out late one night to view the Comet Kohoutek, which never appeared, said Rich Abbott, a longtime family friend.
"He's a very interesting guy," Abbott said. "He's pretty passionate about everything he does. He was really devoted to his kids. He was a very good athlete and in turn became a very good coach in kids sports."
Besides serving as director of general pediatrics for newborn services at Women and Children's Hospital, Sarkin cared for children at the Hodge Street Clinic, said Morin, pediatrics chief at Children's.
In his earlier days, Sarkin was an elementary and middle school science teacher downstate before graduating from New York Medical College in 1977 and coming to Children's for his residency in pediatrics.
But Sarkin still desired to teach. He got his chance at UB, where he had been on the faculty since 1981, most recently as a professor of pediatrics in the School of Medicine.
When Sarkin was appointed director of pediatric medical student education at UB, he helped devise programs that taught doctors how to teach young medical students and medical students how to teach and communicate with their patients.
"I really disliked medical school, because so much was poorly taught," Sarkin said in a 1992 Buffalo News article. "I thought one of the contributions I could make to the medical profession was to help improve the teaching."
Amid the more traditional teaching theories, Sarkin used movie clips as one of his more unorthodox teaching methods.
Sarkin, a movie fan, would show young doctors teaching scenes from movies like "The Karate Kid," "Footloose" and "Star Wars." Not only would it grab their attention, but force them to think about new ways to teach.
Sarkin was right. The programs for UB pediatric residents and faculty caught on, and Sarkin soon was presenting his workshops at medical meetings and conventions across the United States and Europe.
He won teaching awards in 1986, '90, '91 and '93. And in 1998, he was a winner of a Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching.
"He and his program were nationally recognized so he was always being invited to give talks at other colleges and medical schools," Morin said. "He was going (to Missouri) to give one of his talks."
Related story on Page A6.