Robert Cairns

Obituary of Robert Bruce Cairns

Robert Bruce Cairns passed away on September 24, 2022, at the age of 79. After a brief and brave battle with lung cancer, he died peacefully in his home in Tucson, Arizona, surrounded by his family.

Bob was born November 13, 1942 in Minneapolis, MN to Bruce Cairns and Marcella Schaefer. He was the oldest of four, and, after moving around the upper midwest as a young child, his family settled in Waukegan, Illinois. Bob graduated from St. George Catholic High School in Evanston, Il in 1960. Working as a caddy throughout high school, he was awarded an Evans Scholarship to attend the University of Minnesota, where he studied geology and mining engineering. He graduated in 1965, and, though accepted into a graduate program in South Dakota, his number was called and he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.

Bob trained as a medic at Fort Sam Houston, and he was deployed as an army medic in Vietnam. He served at a field hospital and later with a helicopter unit. After being honorably discharged in 1969, he returned home to Illinois. His experience as an army medic and a volunteer medic inspired him to become a doctor, and, when home from the war, he attended Rush Medical College in Chicago on the GI bill and graduated in 1975. As a 3rd year medical student, he returned to Vietnam, specifically to Kontum in the central highlands near the Cambodian border, to work at an independent hospital run by an American doctor. He left Vietnam in the fall of 1974. Like many Veterans, his relationship with the war and his involvement was complicated, feelings he explained in an interview with the Tucson Weekly  in 2004.

While in Chicago, he met Mary Murphy, a nursing student also at Rush, at a spaghetti dinner on the floor with Bob’s sister and brother-in-law, and Mary’s cousin, who happened to be classmates. Bob and Mary were both passionate about public health, medicine, and travel. They dated while they finished school and moved to Arizona after graduating. They married in 1979, recently celebrating their 42nd anniversary. Their love for travel continued when their children were born, making numerous trips to Mexico, Europe and Asia as a family over the years.

After graduating from medical school, Bob began a 47 year career as a family practice doctor in Southern Arizona. After internship in Phoenix, he worked for Indian Health Service on the Tohono O'odham Nation, finished residency at U of A, worked with GHMA, owned and practiced at Urgent Care Associates, and worked for IORA before retirement in June 2022. Urgent care and primary care medicine was his passion, and he believed that healthcare is a human right and that everyone should have access to affordable care and medicine. Contributing to this goal in his own way, Dr. Bob served as the go-to health advisor, kind and non-judgemental, for so many friends and family members.  

One of the things Bob loved most was spending time out in nature. From his childhood until the last months of his life, he could be found exploring outdoors, fishing, camping, searching for fossils, and planning trips to visit whichever part of the world had most recently stirred his curiosity. Bob was a lover of water-based excursions, and, when there wasn't time for a trip to the Boundary Waters or a full river trip, Bob kept his old Grumman aluminum canoe at the ready for adventures on the few lakes close to Tucson. His children have many happy memories of packing up the truck and heading out on the road towards an adventure. Rain or shine, there would always be geology, archeology, examination of scat, and lots of maps and books to study. He also passed this curiosity onto his grandchildren through the many specimens of desert creatures he collected to share with them.

Bob is survived by his wife Mary Murphy, his children Daniel Murphy-Cairns (Grant Williams) and Moira Murphy-Cairns (Sean McGovern), his grandchildren Maeve and Declan McGovern and his sisters Barbara Reif (Jerry) and Susan Holm (Peter), and brother John Cairns (Jane) and their children and grandchildren.

A memorial service for Bob is planned for early 2023, please contact his children for details. Those wishing to honor Bob’s lifelong commitment to caring for other people no matter their circumstance or background can make donations to Clínica Amistad in Tucson or the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project.

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A Memorial Tree was planted for Robert
We are deeply sorry for your loss ~ the staff at Angel Valley Funeral Home
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