GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - For 24 years, Dr. Bob Travnicek has served South Mississippi through his work at the state department of health. The District 9 Health Officer has guided South Mississippi through everything from the AIDS epidemic and West Nile, to hurricanes and the oil spill. He has always brought so much passion to his work and has never failed to answer a phone call or do an interview with the media.
On Monday, his staff honored his work and dedication with a farewell luncheon.
"It's been a lot of fun, but, you know, I'm 73 and slowing down a little," Dr. Travnicek said.
He feels fortunate to have been able to work for so many years.
"My Dad died prematurely, so I didn't think I'd last this long. I thought I'd die young and I told everyone I would die on the job. But I lived longer than I thought, so now I'm retiring."
Dr. Travnicek has never wanted a lot of attention for his work; and he didn't want any fanfare for his retirement either. But his co-workers couldn't let him leave without a proper goodbye at the office.
This unassuming family doctor from Nebraska has made has made a home for himself and his family in Mississippi. After taking over his dad's family practice in Wilbur Nebraska for 22 years, Travnicek went back to school and got a masters degree in public health at Harvard University; which brought him to the job in Mississippi. There have been numerous accomplishments and milestones since he started the job, but he credits his staff.
"No matter what we've done, it's an incredible team around me. So the fun part is helping the team get through their day, and that's all I ever really did."
He has always stayed on top of the health issues that have affected Mississippi, from preventing diseases, like AIDS, Tuberculosis, West Nile, and Influenza, to making sure the restaurants we eat in and water we drink are clean and safe. One of his biggest challenges over the past quarter century was Hurricane Katrina.
"People don't understand I'm the county physician, and during an emergency I have a lot of responsibilities and authority. That was a life changing moment that showed what a community can overcome with teamwork."
It has never been easy. But Dr. Travnicek loves a challenge, and loves making a difference.
"I just say what's the plan? What are our problems and where are we going to make a difference? So the big thing was making a difference and I had a whole team of difference makers."
But Dr. Travnicek has definitely left his mark; and has undoubtedly made a tremendous difference in the health and quality of life in this community. What's next for the good doctor?
"I haven't got a thing planned. I don't know what I'll do. I'll take it a day at a time and see what happens. You know, if you have a plan and somebody wants you to do something else, you can't, because you got a plan. So there's no plan."