Dr. Andrew Rinker, a retired New Orleans pediatrician who was president of the Orleans Parish School Board during a tumultuous era, died Thursday. He was 85.
Rinker served on the OPSB from 1965 to 1971, a critical period in local education. New Orleans schools were still trying to make their way through the school desegregation furor, and in the meantime, they had to deal with labor unrest and the destruction wrought by Hurricane Betsy in 1965.
Angry segregationists burned a cross on the front lawn of Rinker’s home at one point.
“I do not think anyone today could appreciate how difficult a task he and his board faced,” said businessman Christian “Christy” Brown, a family friend. “It is clear that his driving force through the controversy was doing what was best for the children.”
Brown said Rinker should be credited with many innovations in the public school system, including the introduction of comprehensive health examinations for schoolchildren, sex education, Head Start, special-education classes and the first air conditioners and computers in New Orleans schools.
“Rinker had an intense intellect, which he hid behind a quick wit,” Brown said. “He dedicated his life to the well-being of New Orleans’ children.”
Rinker was born in Eureka, Illinois. According to his family, Ronald Reagan, the future president, was his baby sitter when Reagan was a student at Eureka College.
Rinker attended Harvard University and the University of Illinois and graduated from Tulane University with a bachelor’s degree in geology. He was a member of Alpha Phi Omega fraternity.
He graduated from the Tulane School of Medicine in 1957. He was a member of the Nu Sigma Nu medical fraternity and received the New Orleans Pediatric Society Award for the top graduating senior.
After completing his Tulane residency in pediatrics at Charity Hospital in 1960, Rinker served as chief of pediatrics of the U.S Army Medical Corps at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
Rinker was a longtime member of the Rex organization, a charter member of the Krewe of Bacchus and a life member of the Southern Yacht Club.
He was chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on School Health and a member of numerous medical societies. His articles were published in numerous medical journals.
Rinker was a clinical professor of medicine at the Tulane medical school and served on its admissions committee, receiving several commendations for his service.
He was a former member of the medical staffs of Ochsner Medical Center, Southern Baptist Hospital, Children’s Hospital and Touro Infirmary; chief of pediatrics at East Jefferson General Hospital; and a visiting staff member at Charity Hospital. In his final years of practice, he was affiliated with the Ochsner Children’s Health Center in Metairie.
He was a former member of the board of managers of Delgado Community College, the Total Community Action board, the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, the executive board of the New Orleans Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America and the Young Men’s Business Club of New Orleans, and was the chairman of Operation Reach, a drug abuse prevention program.
He also was a member of the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church committee on development and was appointed to the archdiocese’s Board for the Hearing Impaired.
In 2004 and 2005, Rinker and his wife, the former Frances Marian Fitzpatrick, worked in the Order of Malta’s Medical Mission Program in Granada, Nicaragua, caring for impoverished and ill children.
In addition to his wife, survivors include three sons, Andrew Jr., Walter and James Clemens Rinker; three daughters, Frances Ritch, Mary Lawrence and Patricia Clayton; and six grandchildren.
A Mass will be said at 1 p.m. Monday at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home, 5100 Pontchartrain Blvd. There will be no visitation. Burial will be private.