Dr. Larry Wruble has certainly “lived an exciting life.” From medical field breakthroughs and progressing civil rights to building a beautiful family, treating one of the most famous celebrities in the world and so much more. Now, after many, many years of helping patients, he’s officially retiring from the profession he loves.
Born in the small mining town of Exeter – a borough of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania – Dr. Wruble earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Miami in Florida, and then graduated from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) in Memphis with honors. “I enjoyed medical school very much, and I did very well. And, I was accepted into the medical honor society Alpha Omega Alpha,” he reminisced. “At the time, there was only one other Jewish guy with me in med school.”
When it came time to choose a medical field, Dr. Wruble decided on internal medicine. After his second year, he felt it was important to have a subspeciality – he chose gastroenterology. The chairman of the department of medicine took Larry under his wing – treating him like a son – and the two developed a fantastic relationship. “But most important during that time was meeting my wife, Diane [née Leach],” whom he proudly describes as a strong lady. “My roommate introduced us. Diane and I married the day before I graduated med school in 1958. We’ve been married for 65 wonderful years.”
The couple, who became avid tennis players, then moved to Philly for Dr. Wruble’s internship at Philadelphia General Hospital. His residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital, University of Miami Medical Center followed, as did his gastroenterology fellowship and a year as a National Institutes of Health research fellow, both at the University of Miami. “I was only the third gastroenterology fellow at the time,” Dr. Wruble said. “I did lots of teaching and research, including lab research, and wrote several medical papers.”
Interestingly, the Bay of Pigs invasion changed Diane and Larry’s course. Dr. Wruble ended up treating many of the American soldiers who were brought to the GI department at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital. Realizing how close the couple was to world powers who had nuclear weapons, they decided to head back up to Memphis. It was a smart move.
There, he joined the faculty of UTHSC as an instructor of medicine and physiology. The school wasn’t hosting any medical conferences, so Dr. Wruble started them – not just in GI, but in all medical fields. He also later served as acting chairman of the Division of Gastroenterology in the early 1970s.
Two notable events showcase Dr. Wruble’s efforts as a trailblazing pioneer. He broke the color barrier in Memphis in 1963 by admitting the first black patient to Baptist Memorial Hospital. “That was a crazy night,” he said. “The man needed help, so I helped him. And he did get better and was able to be discharged.” The second groundbreaking event was opening the first practice that was solely for gastroenterology. “My clinic was the first to limit to one specialty,” he added, “no one had ever done that before.”
Dr. Wruble ran his practice alone for five years before welcoming two more skilled physicians. As the number of patients grew and new techniques were developed, they added more physicians to the clinic, and eventually moved from Baptist East Hospital to an office in Germantown. Just a few years ago, the practice merged with Gastro One and took its name. “It worked quite well, everyone gets along,” he said. “The office flourished, and we now have 35 physicians, including my son, Gary.”
Then there’s the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll – an incredible career highlight of treating Elvis Presley. Not because he was a global superstar, mind you, but because Dr. Wruble helped the Jailhouse Rock-er. “Every time I had to put him in the hospital, everyone wanted to go in the room!” he said with a laugh. “We had a good relationship. Elvis was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. When he died in 1977, it was a tremendous loss to society.”
Though he had plans to work until he was 90, the pandemic ushered in Dr. Wruble’s retirement a bit early. “I dreaded leaving, but retirement has been wonderful,” he said happily. “I get to sleep late! But best of all – I get to spend time with Diane.”
“We’ve had good times,” said Diane, who is hysterically clever and witty. “It’s all been good. We have a lot of laughs and so many stories, wonderful friends and family. I would do it all over again. No complaints.”
Larry still refers to his bride as beautiful, taking every opportunity to sing her praises and dote on her. Just spending a few minutes with them together, you can see how lovely their relationship is – it’s in the way they look at and talk to each other. It’s quite special. The couple makes sure to exercise regularly and Diane does yoga too. They schep tremendous nachas from their three children – Lisa, Steve, Gary – and their 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
There’s so much more to Dr. Wruble’s professional life. Running conferences, hiring department chairmen, starting a research company, conducting ulcerative colitis treatment breakthroughs, winning professional awards and more. More Elvis, of course. He even gets emotional sharing a story about a patient who’d been seeking treatment unsuccessfully for 20 years – Dr. Wruble was able to help him in just a few weeks. You can read about that case and so much more in Dr. Wruble’s memoir, which he’s writing now.
In early January, his closest friends and family – and especially those who were with him when he first started out – toasted Dr. Wruble at a festive retirement party. “We’ve had a good effect on a lot of people. There’s no profession with more gratification than medicine … when you make somebody better,” he said. “I’ve had a fun and exciting life. And I couldn’t have done it without Diane.”