Sounds of Solace

Dr. Neil Franckle and and others pose for a photo outside newly named studio at WUSF

Dr. Neil Franckle honors late wife, Dr. Lorraine Rubis, with gift to station they loved: WUSF

April 15, 2024

By Dave Scheiber 

Inside Dr. Neil Franckle’s bright and spacious Tierra Verde home, the airwaves of a particular radio station deliver a daily source of comfort. They carry reassuring voices from shows like Morning Edition, Fresh Air, All Things Considered and Florida Matters. And he hears more than the latest news and talk carried daily by NPR affiliate WUSF or the concertos on Classical WSMR; he feels the presence of his late wife, Lorraine, in the programs that bonded them as devoted listeners for more than three decades.

They spent long and successful careers healing patients, often saving lives — he as a senior emergency room physician and medical director in Pinellas County; she as a pioneering female cardiothoracic surgeon in Dallas, Philadelphia and Huntington, West Virginia, only the ninth woman certified in the field in the United States.

Dr. Lorraine Rubis, her professional name, performed thousands of such surgeries — even once gaining media attention for operating on her ailing father and restoring him to health in time for her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary five weeks later. 

But now, there is another heart in need of mending.

Franckle’s has been broken since last year when his wife of 33 years died following complications from back surgery, which had been preceded by three decades of decreasing mobility that an initial surgery and a half-dozen procedures could not fix. 

“She passed away one year ago yesterday,” Franckle said in February. “It’s been very difficult because Lorraine was the love of my life.”

But in a very real way, their love story endures — in the many photos of the couple on the walls, shelves and desktops, in the memories that constantly fill his thoughts, and in the words wafting from WUSF news programs throughout the house they had custom built in the early 1990s. 

And now, in an enduring gift Franckle has made to memorialize Lorraine. His $250,000 donation to WUSF will name in her honor a studio used for special news coverage; establish the Drs. Lorraine Rubis and Neil Franckle Endowment in support of the station’s journalistic endeavors; and hire a new executive director for Florida Matters, Gracyn Doctor. Before this recent gift, the couple had given more than $100,000 to the station that had become the soundtrack to their lives since they were wed in 1991.

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Dr. Lorraine Rubis

“I think the radio was turned on from the time we got up in the morning and throughout the day,” he recalls. “And I have to tell you, Lorraine took the lead in that and always did.  I was the kind of person who would listen to just about anything. But it became a regular part of our lives. And when I listen to it now, I think of Lorraine and I feel an extra connection, like we’ve established a new kind of relationship with the station.”

Their own relationship took root far from West Central Florida — two aspiring medical professionals on entirely different paths and an unexpected chance for a dance.

• • •

For Franckle, the journey to his future wife began in the city where he was born and raised, St. Petersburg. His father was a general surgeon who began practicing in town during the 1930s — one of only a dozen or so in the growing city. Franckle attended Shorecrest School and Northeast High until his parents sent him to Massachusetts to complete his education at Deerfield Academy. 

That paved the way to nearby Harvard University, where Franckle earned his undergraduate degree, and then medical school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. It was the same institution where a young Lorraine Rubis excelled in her general surgery residency. On one occasion, Franckle saw her in action, deftly attending to a gunshot victim in the emergency room. “She came down and, in an instant, inserted a tube to relieve the bleeding — I was in awe of her skill,” he recalls.

In her hometown of Minneapolis, she’d been a high school honors student and went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota medical school. She was inspired by towering heart surgeons from the school known for pioneering cardiac interventions in the 1950s and 1960s. Rubis was going places in the field. 

At a 1970 Case Western social mixer called the Fluid and Electrolyte Rounds, students and residents could drink a beer, enjoy some snacks and blow off steam. 

“On this one particular day, I saw Lorraine there dancing by herself. That didn’t last long, because I cut in — with her. One of my best friends from college once asked me how long it took to realize I was attracted to Lorraine. I said, ‘Immediately.’ But simultaneously, I was a little overwhelmed by her.”

They hit it off that first dance, and a date followed to shop at the famed Newman-Stern Co., the sporting goods store once owned by actor Paul Newman’s father. The problem, however, was that the love-smitten medical student and the star resident became enormously busy as their careers took off. So, other than occasional dates, followed by brief visits several times a year, the relationship never progressed into marriage territory over the next 20 years. 

Franckle returned to St. Petersburg, where he worked for seven years in the Bayfront Hospital ER, then circulated to other area hospitals, including St. Petersburg General and Palms of Pasadena, where he served as chief of a wound and hyperbaric medicine center. Rubis, meanwhile, was also on the rise, eventually settling in Huntington to co-found a cardiac surgery practice, working 16-hour days and many weekends, to serve a community in need.

“She knew I was daunted by her,” Franckle says. “I was, and that probably made me more cautious. I remember she once told me, ‘I wonder if you’re caught up in some sort of approach-avoidance situation with me.’ I said, ‘Well, maybe, but we’ll work it out.’”

And they did — with the help of group-couples counseling. “I’ll never forget it ¬— the people in the group heard our story, and one person asked me, ‘Why haven’t you asked her to marry you?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. Lorraine, will you marry me?’ She said yes, and our lives forever changed.”

They were married in 1991 in Minneapolis. To mark the occasion, noted Star-Tribune columnist Jim Klobuchar — who had penned a feature five years earlier about Rubis performing heart surgery on her father — wrote a front-page Metro story hailing the long-running courtship that had finally ended at the altar. 

Among the witty passages from the late newsman: “Friends of unsinkable love can now rejoice today. … This wedding will produce a clinical breakthrough in American medicine. Rarely if ever have two doctors been married after a once-a-year courtship waged through two decades, through climate zones from semitropical to subarctic and with thousands of stitches en route.”

• • •

Rubis left her practice in West Virginia and moved to St. Petersburg. Sometimes, she missed her fast-paced work life and occasionally flew back to Huntington to perform surgeries.  

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Dr. Neil Franckle and Dr. Lorraine Rubis

But in time, she embraced Florida life — joining organizations and presiding over alumni groups, taking day trips, loving the new house they built in Tierra Verde and listening to WUSF. Rubis gradually found new work at various hospitals in town and cultivated hobbies, such as singing in a barbershop choir called the Sweet Adelaides. 

Yet her painful back problems continued to worsen through the years, eventually causing an inflammation of her spinal cord and leading to her passing in 2023.
Franckle does his best today to keep busy and carry on, having lunch with friends, occasionally piloting his single-engine plane on short trips, and listening to the radio station that meant so much to them. “There’s no other station like it, doing this kind of local outreach,” he says. “We never gave huge amounts over the years. But it was always one of our most consistent causes.”

Now comes a gift of genuine impact, one that will bear the name of Dr. Lorraine Rubis to help perpetuate the programming that drew them in long ago.

“Lorraine and Neil have meant so much to WUSF for nearly 25 years,” says WUSF Public Media General Manager JoAnn Urofsky. “We, too, miss Lorraine, and we are so grateful that Neil has chosen to honor her memory in this very meaningful way.”

He is grateful as well — for all the years he and Lorraine had together starting with that first dance, and the knowledge that her legacy lives on in the WUSF airwaves beaming daily into his home and far beyond.


FY 2022-23 Total Commitment


Endowment Assets Through FY23


Total First Time Donors in FY23