A surgeon with a sideline raising cattle takes to the skies to help wounded veterans

Howard Tobin ’60 at the controls of his Citation Jet, which he uses to transport wounded veterans.
Howard Tobin ’60 at the controls of his Citation Jet, which he uses to transport wounded veterans.
Jessica Ambats

When Howard Tobin ’60 is at the controls of his Citation Jet, eight miles up and going 450 miles an hour, the 77-year-old is on top of the world. “How could you not get a thrill from that?” he asks.

He first took flying lessons for $14 a week 50 years ago, when he was a surgical resident in Houston. After his residency, the Air Force sent him to Abilene, Texas, a place he initially viewed as “the end of the world.” But he fell in love with the city and still lives there today.

Courtesy Howard Tobin ’60

When Howard Tobin ’60 is at the controls of his Citation Jet, eight miles up and going 450 miles an hour, the 77-year-old is on top of the world. “How could you not get a thrill from that?” he asks.

He first took flying lessons for $14 a week 50 years ago, when he was a surgical resident in Houston. After his residency, the Air Force sent him to Abilene, Texas, a place he initially viewed as “the end of the world.” But he fell in love with the city and still lives there today.

The flying lessons came in handy when Tobin launched his medical practice. He was interested in cosmetic surgery — “when I started, it was frowned on as a frivolous specialty, and I was considered a maverick” — so he flew to other Texas cities to do consultations for patients.

These days, he flies about once a month as a volunteer pilot with the Veterans Airlift Command, which transports wounded veterans for medical appointments, speaking engagements, and humanitarian missions. “It’s just a way to give to people who are incredibly deserving,” he says.

Five years ago, his oldest daughter, Tracy, died of breast cancer. “You have to survive something like that,” says Tobin, who has two other children and six grandchildren with Gail, his wife of 54 years. “I would say it’s changed us permanently. A lot of times we just break down and cry, and then you go on.” His refuge is a 200-acre ranch where he raises cattle on weekends. But during the week, he’s in the operating room. “I love what I do,” he says. “I have no intention of retiring.”