Dr. Ralph W. Coonrad
1923 - 2019
Hall-Wynne Funeral Service & Crematory
1113 W. Main St
Durham, NC
Dr. Ralph W. Coonrad


Ralph W. Coonrad, M.D., revered and beloved orthopaedic surgeon and Professor Emeritus, Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, Duke University Medical Center, died at the age of 95 on April 10, 2019 in Durham, North Carolina. Dr. Coonrad or simply "Ralph", "Rolf" or "Papa" as many of family, close friends and colleagues referred to him, leaves behind the legacy of a lifetime of major accomplishments in his profession, but beyond that and so near and dear to his heart, were the lifelong relationships he developed with so many and especially with his family whom he dearly loved. He served as a devoted mentor to so many talented and aspiring surgeons and colleagues alike as the role model of a consummate physician in his compassionate care, grace and humility, and he loved every opportunity to broaden those relationships with the occasional fishing or hunting trip.

A Celebration of Life for Dr. Coonrad will be held at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Friday, April 26, 2019 at 1:00 PM, with a reception to follow at Hope Valley Country Club. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to Westminster Church. In addition to his doctors and countless staff members at The Forest At Duke, Dr. Coonrad's family wishes to express their profound gratitude to Maimouna Barrett for her exquisite and loving care.

Dr. Coonrad is survived by two daughters, Susan C. Cullen (Dennis) of Durham, North Carolina and Sally C. Carroll (David) of Charlottesville, Virginia, three grandchildren, Kevin W. Cullen (Holly) of Durham, North Carolina, M. Evelyn Carroll of Richmond, Virginia, and E. Ashley Carroll of Arlington, Virginia, and one great-grandchild, Grace V. Cullen of Durham, North Carolina. He is predeceased by his cherished wife of 49 years, Dr. Evelyn V. Coonrad.

Dr. Coonrad was born in Tsingtao, China, the son of Presbyterian missionaries, on September 10, 1923. He attended the Pyengyang Foreign School in North Korea and the Stony Brook School in New York before matriculating to Davidson College, where he earned varsity letters in football, wrestling, track and tennis. Dr. Coonrad then served for three years as a naval ensign during World War II, graduating from Duke University School of Medicine (Alpha Omega Alpha) in 1947. He completed a surgical internship and a residency in orthopaedics at Duke University Medical Center in 1953. His residency included a fellowship at the Warm Springs Foundation (founded in 1927 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt) where he gained invaluable experience performing tendon transfers in poliomyelitis patients, which inspired his life long passion for pediatric orthopaedics.

Following his residency, Dr. Coonrad was stationed at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas for two years where he served as a Captain in the United States Army and Chief of Orthopedics and Hand Surgery. He operated on many US soldiers wounded during the Korean War, including one particular patient whose elbow, having been destroyed in combat, provided the inspiration for his future development of a total elbow joint replacement.

Dr. Coonrad returned to Durham in 1955 and entered the private practice of medicine. He was one of the founders of Triangle Orthopedic Associates, while simultaneously working throughout his career at Duke University Medical Center, first as an Assistant Clinical Professor, and later as an Associate Clinical Professor of the Division of Orthopedic Surgery. He was an attending staff member of Watts Hospital in Durham, and later Durham Regional Hospital, where he served as President of the Staff. He also served as a consultant in orthopaedic surgery to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Durham, an Associate Clinical Professor at UNC Memorial Hospital, and for 35 years, as a consultant to the United States Army and Womack Army Hospital at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In addition to his full time practice, upon retirement of his mentor and cherished friend Dr. Lenox Baker, he became the medical director and chief surgeon of Lenox Baker Children's Hospital at Duke, a position he held for 24 years.

Although Dr. Coonrad's early surgical expertise was in surgery of the hand, he was also a pioneer in developing scoliosis surgery in North Carolina. After training in the early 1960's with Dr. Paul Harrington of the Baylor School of Medicine, Houston, Texas, he became the first orthopaedist in North Carolina to treat scoliosis with the newly designed Harrington rods, and he also developed a school screening program for scoliosis throughout the state.

Dr. Coonrad was an inventor and designer of many surgical instruments and devices, however his most transformative design was for a total elbow joint replacement. In 1972, working alone in his garage using cadaver bones, he designed an elbow joint by whittling models from wood. Dr. Coonrad then worked with the Zimmer Company to produce the prototype in titanium. The "Coonrad Total Elbow", and later the "Coonrad-Morrey Total Elbow System", became the gold standard of elbow replacements for over 40 years.

Dr. Coonrad served as a member or chairman of numerous pivotal orthopaedics committees, including the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, American Shoulder and Elbow Society, Scoliosis Research Society, American Orthopaedic Society, and North Carolina Orthopaedic Association. Dr. Coonrad was also the recipient of numerous academic, scientific and research awards, including recognition by the Governor's Council as North Carolina's Outstanding Physician in 1971 and by the North Carolina Orthopaedic Association as the Outstanding Orthopaedic Surgeon in 1996, as well as receiving the Duke Orthopaedic Residency Award for excellence in education and teaching in 1994, and the inaugural Duke Master Orthopaedics Award in 2017.

A lasting monument to Dr. Coonrad's faith, energy and vision, and the cornerstone of his and his family's life, is Durham's Westminster Presbyterian Church. Dr. Coonrad and his wife Evelyn were founding members of the church, and are recorded in the church register as members #0001 and #0002. Dr. Coonrad served as a deacon and elder of the church and regularly attended service until only a few weeks prior to his death.

His proudest moment in a lifetime of honors and accolades was his 1974 designation as Durham Father of the Year.

The Coonrad family is under the care of Hall-Wynne Funeral Service, Durham, NC. For online condolences, please visit www.hallwynne.com - select obits.
Published by The News and Observer & Herald Sun on Apr. 15, 2019.
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Celebration of Life
Westminster Presbyterian Church
Funeral services provided by:
Hall-Wynne Funeral Service & Crematory
Sponsored by Hall-Wynne Funeral Service & Crematory.
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19 Entries
Can't believe its been 2 years since you have passed. You were a wonderful Doctor & I blessed to have you as my orthopedic doctor for the first 15 years of my life.
Mary Walker
April 9, 2021
Ralph was an incredible human being and such a welcoming spirit to my husband, Jeff, and me when we joined Westminster Presbyterian Church 21 years ago. I will miss seeing him in church and will miss his joyful, kind and loving spirit. He led an exemplary life, and we should strive to live faithfully as he lived. Thank God for him...what a blessing!
Mary Beck White-Sutton
May 9, 2019
With the passing of Dr. Ralph Coonrad, we have lost one of the greats. An extraordinary surgeon, wonderful neighbor and dear friend to our family. He improved the lives of everyone who know him and through his contributions to orthopedic medicine, improved the lives of may more. I am honored to have known him.
Johnston Clark
April 25, 2019
With the passing of Dr. Ralph Coonrad, we have lost one of the greats. An extraordinary surgeon, wonderful neighbor and dear friend to our family. He improved the lives of everyone who know him and through his contributions to orthopedic medicine, improved the lives of may more. I am honored to have known him.
Johnston Clark
April 25, 2019
I met Dr. Coonrad through my sister-in-law, Paula Werk. I was so impressed how humble he was, given what an incredibly accomplished and talented physician. It was instantly recognizable that he was a man of supreme integrity as well as compassion. My father was a physician as well and I would have felt they would have been good friends as they were both such fine people. I know his family should be comforted by the knowledge that he truly improved hundreds of lives throughout his wonderful life. It's hard for any one man to do more than that.
Stephen Werk
April 25, 2019
a loved one
April 24, 2019
I was honored and privileged to have known Dr. Coonrad. I worked in the Dept. of Human Resources, Division of Public Health during the time Dr. Coonrad was Medical Director at Lenox Baker Children's Hospital. It was a source of comfort to "us administrators from afar" to know that the "Lenox Baker Children" and their families were being cared for by a brilliant, compassionate, and skilled surgeon. The world needs more Dr. Coonrads. He made life so much better for so many people. Well done, good and faithful servant
Edith Gill
April 16, 2019
Dr Coonrad was a skillful surgeon and gifted by God.He performed scoliosis surgery on me in 1974 and I stayed at Lenox Baker for 3 months thereafter. He was caring, compassionate with a love for us girls( that's what he called the girls he did surgery on) also had a picture of each girl on a wall in his office.He was also gentle and genuinely concerned for his patients. When your scared and only 13 yrs old going through a difficult and dangerous surgery and away from your family and home for 3 months is traumatic to say the least. I welcomed his visit smile and soft voice daily.I hope these words tell you just alittle of what's in my heart for a wonderful man who definitely had Jesus light shining through him.I just had a second scoliosis surgery done at Duke 2016 when I inquired to Dr Richardson he said Dr Coonrad still comes by the hospital for rounds I would haves loved to have seen him again but sadly I did not. All this to say something of this magnitude in your life you don't forget the man that gave you a better life through God's grace nor his loving devotion to medicine or his girls.
Tammy Coggins
April 16, 2019
I add that Dr. Coonrad some years ago was fishing here at Wrightsville Beach, and took the trouble to come by our house to see how our daughter was doing, and he brought us some Spanish mackerel.
Anne Russell
April 16, 2019
Dr. Coonrad saved my 15-year-old daughter from becoming the hunchback of Notre Dame, by implanting Harrington rods to correct her severe scoliosis. He was an outstanding man in every way. She now leads a normal life with 2 teenage children.
Anne Russell
April 16, 2019
We will always remember Dr. Coonrad for the many surgeries of our daughter who gave her the opportunity to walk. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. May peace of the Lord be with your family. Pease Lorraine and Karl Karmonocky
April 15, 2019
to a man i will miss thanks for helping me walk again
heather karmonocky
April 15, 2019
My many thanks to this fine man and surgeon. I was 15 years old when he put my knee back together. Because of his knowledge and ability I have enjoyed a wonderful and active life. I am forever thankful.

Rest in peace, Dr. Ralph Coonrad.

Don J. McClintock
April 15, 2019
Mary Walker
April 15, 2019
I'm deeply saddened to hear of dr Coonrad's passing. He will surely be missed. He was such a wonderful man. He performed my first back surgery on April 7th 1982 at what is now Durham regional hospital. He always went above & beyond for his patients. Thank you for all you did for me.
Mary Walker
April 15, 2019
Our hearts go out to you. God will give you peace in the difficult days ahead Matthew 11: 28.
V .
April 15, 2019
Dick Pickett
April 15, 2019
Dear family I'am sorry for your loss.May the God of tender mercy comfort you in this time of grief.He promise that we will see our loved ones again on a paradise earth.Isiah 26:19,Psalms 38:29
April 14, 2019
The last of the best.As a nursing student in 1975 at Watts, I quickly learned what good doctors meant.rAlways with a smile and a pat on the back!Dr. Coonrad,Godspeed to you as you find your dear Evelyn.The last of the best
Robin Godwin
April 14, 2019
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