A global audience gathers to remember the life of Dr. Richard Steadman

VAIL — On Sunday, June 4, on what would have been his 86th birthday, friends and family of Dr. J. Richard “Steady” Steadman gathered at the Ford Amphitheater in Vail to celebrate his life and legacy.

Steadman died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Vail on Jan. 20, 2023. Steadman was a world-renowned innovator and mentor in the field of orthopedic sports medicine, known for founding The Steadman Clinic and The Steadman Philippon Research Institute.

More than a doctor

At Sunday’s celebration, Steadman’s children and grandchildren as well as his former patients, colleagues, residents and friends spoke to not only the seismic impact he had on the orthopedic field, but on each of their lives.

“You’re going to hear a lot about my dad today, the renowned surgeon. His accomplishments definitely are vast but we also want you to know about the father, husband, grandfather, and great friend he was to everyone,” said Liddy Steadman Lind, his daughter. “He was — and he still is, actually, even in his absence — our sun, the center of our universe, the person around whom we all revolve.”

Andy Mill, a former Alpine ski racer, who emceed the event alongside another Alpine ski racer Cindy Nelson, introduced the celebration of life as one to honor Steadman’s “profound impact on us, our hearts, our minds, our core and who we’ve all become as people.”

On Sunday, Steadman was remembered through stories as kind, loving, loyal, genius, innovative, humble, caring, funny, generous, empathetic, calm, patient, competitive, brave and remarkable. Friends remembered him for his love of competition, athletics, food, wine (calamari, specifically) and good company.

Paige Steadman, one of his granddaughters, recalled his “towering presence.”

“Not just in his physical stature, but also in the impact he made on all of our lives,” she said. “My granddad was a giant, both in his field as an esteemed orthopedic surgeon and in the way that he touched the hearts of everyone that he encountered.”

It’s a presence that has been missed since his passing.

“The house feels a little smaller; the dinner orders definitely feel less grand. But let us remember that Granddad’s legacy lives on in each of us, his teachings, his love and his unwavering commitment to doing what was right has shaped our lives in immeasurable ways,” said Paige Steadman.

The extended family

Jim and James Salestrom perform “Rocky Mountain High” during Richard Steadman’s memorial Sunday in Vail.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

While Steadman’s career kept him incredibly busy, Steadman Lind reflected that her father was always a present and consistent figure in her and her brother’s lives as well as the lives of his grandchildren.

The balance he struck was such that Dane Lind, Steadman’s grandson, recalled the consistent presence he had in their lives.

“Everyone has been talking about how Granddad was the busiest guy on the planet, but he came to so many of our soccer games, we were starting to wonder if our granddad was unemployed,” Lind said.

However, this balance also meant Steadman’s two worlds were interconnected.

“My dad combined his world as a physician and our world as a family man by merging them,” Steadman Lind said. “At home, there were patients popping in and out, having dinner with us, or living downstairs for months at a time, like Cindy (Nelson) and Phil (Mahre) and so many of the people here did.”

As Lind reflected, “Family meant a lot more than the people he was related to.”

As Mahre put it during his remarks, these patients and athletes all became “honorary members of the Steadman family.”

“Watching him welcome his patients into our home like family taught us so much about how to treat others and gave us that big extended family. Family was everything to dad,” said Lyon Steadman, his son.

As Nelson reflected, much of the activity in the Steadman household revolved around a very important piece of furniture: the dining room table. But not just for the meals — which were also incredibly important — but for physical therapy exercises.

“It didn’t matter how late we were, Dr. Steadman, with whoever was there as a patient — in our case, it was mostly ski teamers — he would clear the table and then he would himself do all the motion exercises that were safe to do for that particular joint that he had just worked on. And every day, morning and night, we had Dr. Steadman as our physical therapist,” Nelson said.

It was at these tables too, that Lind recalled his grandfather’s “magical ability of making whoever he talked to feel like the most important thing in the world.”

“Somehow  — even if he had just operated on the king of Spain or a U.S. president or whoever it was — what he really wanted to do was talk about us. He wanted to hear about what we learned in math class or how soccer practice was,” Lind said. “If he ever had the chance to brag about his accomplishments, he chose to bring the people around him up instead.”

The extended family was led not only by Steadman but also by his wife, Gay. The couple met on a blind date 63 years ago.

“Gay, thank you for all your wonderful care for me and your support of all of us at the time when we needed it the most,” Nelson said. “Our Steadman experience was made completely healing because of you.”

One of the ways the family environment was upheld was through traditions. Paige Steadman called her grandfather the “champion of tradition,” with a fierce commitment to rituals.

“Whether it was the impending dinner question, the way he donned a king’s crown every Christmas morning while he passed out presents to antsy grandkids, his daily walk with his beloved Jack Russell Terrier no matter what, or the extra order of shaved truffle on his pasta at the Larkspur restaurant every Christmas Eve,” she said. “He understood the significance of these rituals in celebrating life.”

One of these traditions was honored on Sunday evening as the celebration of life came to a close.

“What Dad always wanted was to have a good party, so we’re going to start it off right now. Dad played this at every single party that he had,” said Lyon Steadman, as Dr. Steadman’s family took the stage and the sound of the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” filled The Amp. Gay led the crowd and family in dancing to the song.

Healing with a touch of magic

Lind said on Sunday that he is currently applying to medical school and working at the institute because of his grandfather. Lind recalled asking his grandfather why he went into medicine. His response: “It just seemed like the right thing to do.”

“As simple as that may sound, it was truly that easy of a decision to him. He knew that his purpose was to heal, to help others, to leave a positive impact on the world. It was his natural ability to be there for the people around him, so much so that devoting his life to service was as simple as feeling like it was the right thing to do,” Lind said.

On Sunday, in a video tribute, Dr. Peter Millett recalled just what made Steadman a great doctor.

“From the moment I met Dr. Steadman, his passion for surgery and dedication to his patients were obvious and inspiring. His skill in the operating room, his precise and steady hands: they possessed a touch of magic. Dr. Steadman had an innate ability to heal,” Millett said. “You’ve no doubt heard the countless stories of saving careers and instilling hope in the hearts of those who had lost it.”

On Sunday, several athletes — including Olympians, World Cup skiers and Super Bowl winners — spoke directly about the impact Steadman had in their healing, and ultimately, in their careers. Bruce Smith, a former NFL player, said Steadman was “one of the main reasons I became a hall of famer.”

However, Smith said that his gratitude for Steadman extended beyond his work as a doctor, to having him in his life for over 30 years because “he was truly remarkable and one of a kind.”

“I’ve never met a man quite like him. Chances are, I never will,” Smith said, before thanking the family for sharing his genius, love and affection for people with the world.

However, his impact extends beyond his patients and to the residents and fellows that he taught and trained.

“When you consider that over 200 of us have trained under Steady and each has gone on to build cities on hills based on his example,” said Dr. John Tokish, one of Steadman’s former fellows. “When you consider that each of us has done thousands of surgeries based on his principles and that many of us have now trained dozens or hundreds of surgeons in our own right who will, in turn, multiply the loaves and fishes. When you consider that, then you begin to understand the ripple effect and the true gift of this man’s legacy.”

Tokish added that learning surgery was the least of the lessons he learned from Steadman. Rather, the lessons were in how he treated others.

“Over these 20-plus years, I have tried — though often been unworthy — to live up to the example he set for me. But when I’m at my best, when I deeply listen, when I remember to put a patient’s needs above all else, when I remember that the team I have around me is the only reason that I’m successful, when my fellows know that I believe in them and that I trust them to do the right thing,” Tokish said.

“When I do those things, there’s a traceable vein right back to Richard Steadman.”

Steadman’s loyalty to his colleagues and staff stood out to all he worked with. Nelson, sharing what Gay had told her, said that when Steadman got the opportunity to move from Lake Tahoe to Vail he would only do it if every staff member also came with him.

“100% of them said yes,” Nelson said.

Smith acknowledged the continued legacy of Steadman’s work through his clinic as he opened his remarks on Sunday.

“As I arrived today, I felt Dr. Steadman’s presence because my knee started hurting,” he said. “I think it was his way of just speaking to me and letting me know that the clinic is still here in case I need it.”

Dr. Marc Philippon, who currently serves as the managing partner of the Steadman Clinic and chair of the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, recalled many of the attributes that made Steadman the physician that he was. This included having courage in innovation as well as having a simple, yet genius approach to problems. But above all, it was his approach to his work that made him stand out.

After a long day of surgery, Philippon recalled how Steadman would come to his office to talk about the clinic. And always, at the center of those discussions, Philippon said was his desire to “just do the right thing for our patients, for everybody.”

“Dr. Steadman was probably the best and most caring physician I’ve met. He was in the room with his patients and the patient already felt better. He had that presence, that positive energy,” he said.

As his family members, colleagues, patients and friends shared memories on Sunday, it was not just his dedication to orthopedics that stood out, but what he meant to those around him.

“What we all discovered was this was a very fully-rounded man,” said George Gillett in a video tribute. Gillett encouraged Steadman and his family to move to Vail in 1990.

“This was not just a jock. This was not just a doctor. This was a magnificent husband, a great father, a great grandfather. He was lovely. And I can tell you — as his next-door neighbor — he was the best neighbor we ever had. So I am telling you, the Steadman family is absolutely magnificent,” Gillet said. “Out of that came an absolute commitment to surround himself with the best. Richard Steadman is the real deal, was the real deal, as is his wife and as is his family.”

This story is from VailDaily.com.