Dr. John R. Hankins, a surgeon and Army veteran who spent much of his career performing and teaching surgery in Iran and Afghanistan, died Tuesday at Oak Crest Village Care Center in Parkville of a stroke. He was 83.
Born in Charlottesville, Va., Dr. Hankins grew up in Orange, Va. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1945 and the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1948. He was certified by the American Board of Surgery in 1954.
Dr. Hankins served as a captain in the Medical Corps of the Army in Iran from 1954 to 1956. After being discharged, he went back to Iran to perform and teach surgery in Tehran from 1957 to 1962 with a secular organization.
He returned to Baltimore from 1962 to 1964 to earn a certification from the Board of Thoracic Surgery. Afterward, he worked as the director of general surgery and head of the residency-training program in surgery at Avicenna Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, for five years.
Returning to the United States, Dr. Hankins worked for more than 20 years as a thoracic surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center, specializing in esophageal cancer. He retired from the hospital in 1990 and went back to Afghanistan during the Taliban insurrection to continue performing and teaching surgery until 1996.
In 1964, he was elected a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and he had been a member of Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society since 1949.
"He was a very committed Christian, and his own life was guided by his faith," said Dr. Gary Goshorn of Timonium, a friend of Dr. Hankins for more than 50 years. The two met when Dr. Hankins was a surgical resident at the University of Maryland and Dr. Goshorn was a medical student.
"That's what caused him to love and serve those people who were less fortunate, especially in the Muslim world. He witnessed his faith by example, and not by exhortation," Dr. Goshorn said.
Dr. Hankins was an elder at Central Presbyterian Church in Towson.
"He had a Bible, which he read over and over again," Dr. Goshorn said. "It was a frayed Bible - the binding was coming off. He really studied the Bible ... and made it a driving force in his life.
"He lived a very simple life - he didn't spend much money on himself. He gave a large percentage to Christian charities and missionaries."
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. today at Central Presbyterian Church, 7308 York Road.
Dr. Hankins is survived by a cousin, Pauline Wells of Bassett, Va.; and her son, Wesley Wells.