FAYETTEVILLE -- Dr. Vincent Brian Runnels, M.D., of Fayetteville, Ark., died Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, at the age of 80. He passed away peacefully at his home surrounded by the love of family and a team of dedicated caregivers.
Dr. Runnels was born on July 11, 1943, in Hot Springs, Ark., to Ruby (Spencer) and Carl Runnels. His biological father was later revealed to be Dr. Lon Earl Reed, also of Hot Springs. Brian graduated from Hot Springs High School and then attended Purdue University, graduating in 1965. Later that year, he married his long-distance sweetheart, Bonnie (Szoke). He went on to attend Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, then completed his neurosurgery residency at the University of California at Davis.
In 1973, the family moved from Sacramento to Seoul, Korea, where Dr. Runnels served as a major at the U.S. Army 121st Evacuation Hospital. Upon their return to the United States, the family lived in Aurora, Colo., before finally settling in Fayetteville in 1976. Brian worked and made lifelong friends at the Northwest Arkansas Orthopedic and Neurosurgery Clinic before founding the Northwest Arkansas Neurosurgery Clinic in Fayetteville a few years later. There he was joined by his partner, Dr. Luke Knox, with whom he practiced until retirement. He also served as chief of staff at the Northwest Medical Center (formerly Springdale Hospital). Brian was recruited out of retirement to work at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Fayetteville, where he cared for our servicemen and women for the last 10 years of his career.
Dr. Runnels, inspired and guided by his mother, was a nature lover and his gardens grew more bountiful and beautiful throughout the years. He loved animals and shared this passion with his children and anyone who wanted to visit his sheep and chickens. Brian was also a voracious reader and lifelong student who pursued continuing education classes throughout his retirement years at the University of Arkansas. He enjoyed studying Shakespeare, art, poetry and creative writing from esteemed-professors-turned-friends, such as Dr. Joe Candido, Dr. Miller Williams, Dr. Lyna Lee Montgomery and Dr. Michael Heffernan.
Brian dabbled in painting and ceramics and filled pages of notebooks with his own wonderful and often humorous poetry. He was an avid outdoor sportsman who loved fishing and duck hunting. He hosted the Dr. Coy Kaylor Sr. Memorial Fishing Tournament for several years and regaled us with stories of the legendary catches and shenanigans from fishing trips to Canada, Mexico and Alaska with Dr. Larry Tuttle, Dr. Frank McEvoy, Dr. Charlie McCutcheon, Dr. Wilbur Lawson and others.
Brian and Bonnie created wonderful Fourth of July memories at their White Flower Farm for family, friends, and especially their grandchildren. These were special celebrations filled with food, horseshoes, fireworks and good company. Brian used these gatherings to showcase his renowned skills on the croquet pitch. Even after a few glasses of wine, Brian breezed through the wickets while mercilessly crushing his opponents' prospects.
Brian was a huge Arkansas Razorbacks fan and member of the Arkansas Razorback Foundation since 1979. He could regularly be seen calling the Hogs behind the Razorback bench at Bud Walton Arena. He never missed an opportunity to remind friends and family to look for him on TV at the home basketball games, joking that he'd be the one in the red shirt.
His ever-jovial demeanor, photographic memory for jokes, poetry and medical knowledge, as well as his kind and caring servant's heart made him a much-loved addition to any office, exam room or dinner table. His "How come I love you so much?" will forever live in our hearts.
Whatever passion or interest his wife or children would embrace, Brian would support and celebrate however possible. The great love he held for his "bride" Bonnie would endure a lifetime. The two celebrated 52 years of marriage before her passing in 2018. She would be the subject of many painted portraits and poems and together they traveled the world, his favorite trips being their ride on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and flying to Europe on the Concorde. The two enjoyed hosting friends for dinner parties, attending shows at the Walton Arts Center, Murder Mystery Dinners with friends at the Arts Center of the Ozarks (Harry Blundell, Dr. Pete and Margo Heinzelmann, Dr. Mitch and Barbara Singleton, Dr. James and Mary Ellen Moore, Dr. David and Marsha Crittenden), tending their garden and doting on their treasured grandchildren. Brian was a man of faith who found God in nature and whose presence he felt and valued in the operating room.
Brian and Bonnie adored their friends and always wanted to make sure they knew how much they enjoyed and appreciated them. Their kids, spouses and grandchildren are forever grateful for their generous love and support.
Dr. Runnels was preceded in death by his wife, Bonnie. He is survived by a son, Ted Runnels (Cassandra); daughters, Meredith Gentner (Addom), Jennifer O'Neill (Mike), Katie Runnels (Jon Graf); grandchildren, Maggie, Harry, Teddy and Ben O'Neill, Jackson, Lily and John McCoy (Mac) Runnels, Reed and Samuel Gentner and Oliver Graf; cousins, Richard Johnson, Don Burks and Ken Burks; brother-in-law, Ivan Borbas.
The family would like to extend their gratitude to Pamela Beard, Flora Giles, Brandy Stout, Nacrisha Litton, Amarion Nelson, Jackson Baker and Circle of Life Hospice.
A celebration of life will be held from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 25, at Sassafras Springs Vineyard and Winery, 6461 E. Guy Terry Road, Springdale, AR 72764. A private family committal will be held at St. Joseph Cemetery in Fayetteville.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a memorial contribution to The Alzheimer's Association at alz.org or Potter's House in Fayetteville at www.phnwa.com/donate.