Dr. Robert E. Dinker, a longtime physician known for his skill at reading plain film X-ray images, for his lavishly landscaped yard and for his great personal kindness, died Dec. 22. He was 81.
His death was from natural causes, his family said.
“He was the nicest, kindest, most uncomplaining man in the world,” said his wife, Betty Dinker of Glen Arm. “Everyone who knew him loved him. I tried to get him to be nasty, but I never could.”
The son of Milford and Ethel Dinker, Dr. Dinker, known as Bob, was the youngest of three children and grew up in Stoneleigh. At a young age he exhibited the same capacity for steadfast loyalty that would enrich his family, colleagues and patients later in life. According to a written obituary prepared by the family, Dr. Dinker remained in touch his entire life with friends he’d made while attending Lida Lee Tall elementary school.
After graduating from Towson High School in 1954, Dr. Dinker enrolled in the University of Maryland, College Park, paying for some college expenses with money he earned from raising cocker spaniel puppies, the obituary said. It was while he was a junior and a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity that he became smitten with a sorority girl who lived across the street. Dr. Dinker wangled a blind date with pretty Betty Anne Headley; the couple were wed on Sept. 5, 1958 .
Mrs. Dinker said she realized she was in love one night after watching her then-boyfriend harmonizing with a group of his friends at a fraternity party.
“I loved the way he sang,” she said. “He was so nice-looking, he had a great, great sense of humor and I liked his manner. That’s when it hit me. I went home that night thinking about him.”
Dr. Dinker enrolled at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. To support his growing family, which consisted of two daughters and a son, he juggled his medical studies with two part-time jobs. He moonlighted by making house calls for a fellow physician and also worked a shift cleaning the seats at the old Memorial Stadium after baseball and football games. During those years, every penny came in handy; his eldest daughter, Katherine Silas of Glenwood, Md., recalls finding an uncashed check to her father from the Baltimore Orioles for the grand total of 62 cents.
The young family moved to Winston-Salem, N.C., in 1967 so the new physician could join the radiology department of a local hospital. At that time, the U.S. was escalating its involvement in the Vietnam War and Dr. Dinker joined the Army Reserves. Just eight months after relocating to North Carolina, he was sent to Chu Lai, Vietnam, as a captain with the 312th Evacuation Hospital Unit. The hospital came under heavy fire. Mrs. Silas said her father was deeply saddened by the deaths of several colleagues, including a nurse who was struck by shrapnel while sitting at a patient’s bedside.
As was typical for him, it was his devotion to his family that helped him through the hard times.
“I was really worried about him,” Mrs. Dinker said. “But we wrote to each other every day. He wrote to me and I wrote to him.”
Dr. Dinker returned to the U.S. in August 1969. The following year, the family moved back to Baltimore when Dr. Dinker joined a newly formed radiology practice operating out of Mercy Hospital. It was while he was there that he developed an expertise in reading the “plain film” X-ray images often taken before a patient undergoes surgery or to examine broken bones. At least once, his professional expertise benefited someone he loved.
“My father knew that I was pregnant before I did,” Mrs. Silas said.
“I’d had bloodwork and a sonogram done and my father reads sonograms. I overheard him on the phone talking to my doctor’s office. He asked if by any chance my results had come back yet. ‘It’s positive?’ ” he said, and he started to cry.
“I thought he was about to tell me that I was dying. But he said, ‘No, you’re going to have a baby.’ ”
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In his free time, Dr. Dinker enjoyed working in his garden and was especially proud of the magnificent azaleas and rhododendrons that thrived there. An accomplished woodworker, he built a bar and finished basement in his home of 46 years. He was an avid fisherman and he and his wife enjoyed traveling the world from South America to Africa to Australia.
But what gave him the greatest joy was spending time with his family.
“When I was a little girl, my father would take me on walks through Patapsco Valley State Park,” Mrs. Silas said.
“We’d walk over the swinging bridge and visit these cave-like formations. He told me that leprechauns lived there and if we’d caught one, we’d get a pot of gold. I always begged him to take me to see the leprechauns. Little did I know that the pot of gold was there all the time, walking right beside me.”
A funeral service for Dr. Dinker was held Dec. 30, and he was interred at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens Mausoleum.
In addition to his wife and eldest daughter, Dr. Dinker is survived by another daughter, Kerry Dinker-Ulevich of Phoenix, Baltimore County; a son, Robert E. Dinker Jr. of McLean, Va.; and eight grandchildren.