GULFPORT, Miss. — There were times early on during his time on the Mississippi Coast when Dr. Robert Travnicek wondered if he'd have to freshen up his resumé — not because he didn't do his job, but because he did it too well.
Recently retired from his position as District 9 health officer for the Mississippi State Department of Health, Travnicek can now look back and look at those days and laugh.
Travnicek could be blunt and to the point when it came to protecting the public and wasn't afraid to ruffle feathers if it needed to be done.
His tough-love methods must have paid off because Travnicek, now 74, recently had a portion of 45th Avenue in Gulfport renamed "Dr. Robert Travnicek Boulevard."
He said the honor, which was the culmination of 24 years of service to South Mississippi, was the proudest day of his life.
"I'm still scratching my head. Being alive and having that happen is still mind-boggling," he said. "This is something that public servants need to aspire to."
George Schloegel, former mayor of Gulfport and Travnicek's longtime friend, was at the Jan. 30 ceremony at the Harrison County Health Department building.
"It's appropriate," Schloegel said, "because he built that facility and built all that the facility represents, including all of the professional staff that works out of there.
"He's a wonderful friend and has been an asset to all of South Mississippi like none other that I have known."
During 24 years on the coast, the Wilber, Neb., native directed the nationally recognized Stroke Belt Grant Project, worked with area agencies to offer health screenings and immunizations, helped establish school-based clinics and a Hazard Analysis and Critical Points Checklist for food-service facilities and was a guest speaker for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration training programs.
The aforementioned accomplishments don't even begin to encompass all Travnicek accomplished along the coast.
In an interview, Travnicek wondered aloud if he would have been as successful — or would have even lasted much more than a year or two — had it not been for a Sun Herald restaurant inspection series he participated in.
When he arrived, Travnicek said, he was considered just a Yankee who talked funny. He had a hard time establishing any sort of authority. The series changed all that, and resulted in shutdowns of several regional restaurants and sweeping changes along the coast. Travnicek said he believes the series sent a message to South Mississippi that he meant business — and, more important, he knew what he was talking about.
"It was always a little contentious toward those restaurants," Travnicek said, "but once that ran on the front page of the Sunday-edition Sun Herald the party was over and I never had another nickel's worth of trouble."
Years later, Travnicek became well known for helping to lead the rebuilding following Hurricane Katrina.
Having been involved in disaster areas before, Travnicek was a particularly vocal and pivotal part of Harrison County's emergency management team.
"It was almost like he had a crystal ball," said Rupert Lacy, Harrison County emergency management director. "It was like he knew what the outcome would be and if you didn't do what he said, you were either going to have loss of life or major problems with life."
Travnicek made sure the hospitals were operational, and hammered home the point that getting the sewer system fixed was of paramount importance.
"He's a take-charge sort of guy," Schloegel said. "After Hurricane Katrina, a lot of things had to be done that were not thought of previously. He made those arrangements on the spot and did what had to be done, no questions asked and no back-patting. He just got it done and saved a lot of lives."
Travnicek did more than shout orders in the storm's aftermath. He often slept at the emergency management center and worked around the clock to achieve goals and important milestones.
"He was very passionate about what he did and his responsibility to protect the citizens he served," said former Sand Beach Authority director Bobby Weaver. "He always put the interest of those he served above his own personal well-being."
In stark contrast from his point-blank work demeanor, Travnicek also had a lighter side, quite literally.
"He's very colorful on his ties and was wearing one (at the Jan. 30 ceremony)," Lacy said. "I'll never forget them. He had what I always called a spring jacket that was very bright and colorful."
Schloegel called Travnicek a Renaissance man, with interests away from medicine such as traveling, fishing, breeding birds, cooking and the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Travnicek's name is already affixed to a street sign across from Memorial Hospital at Gulfport. Talking about the honor, Travnicek said it would not have been made possible without the talented group of dedicated people he surrounded himself with throughout the years.
"There's a theory in war that it's more important who you're fighting with than who you're fighting against. I always believed that."
In large part because of them, Travnicek's contributions will never be forgotten — and for that, "Dr. T." is eternally grateful.
Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com