Main content

Retiring Boldly: Judge, 70, Leaves Bench to Serve as Paramedic

Don Bush, a retired federal magistrate judge, is now a paramedic.

Don Bush, a retired U.S. magistrate judge from Texas, in an ambulance where he now works several days each month. 

Don Bush was sitting in a funeral, listening as the church’s former pastor, a man well into his eighties, delivered a heartfelt prayer.  When the pregnant pause before the “amen” stretched too long for comfort, members of the congregation looked up to realize that the clergyman was having a seizure at the pulpit.

Bush had already jumped into action, and was rushing down the aisle before many realized what was happening.

“I’m pretty sure that’s the first time that happened in that church,” he recalled. “There’s not a whole lot you can do for a seizure, just give them oxygen and make sure the airway is clear and check the patient's glucose.” 

Don Bush is a newly certified paramedic, with numerous courses of intense training under his belt.  He’s pulled multiple twelve and twenty-four hour shifts, performed a number of complex medical procedures, and run his own ambulance crew.  

He’s also 70 years old, and a recently retired federal magistrate judge.

But Bush wouldn’t want you to call him extraordinary. 

“My son does a lot of medical trips to Haiti” recounts Bush, former magistrate judge with the Eastern District of Texas’ Sherman Division.  “About the time I began to think of retiring, I thought it’d be interesting to go down and do that with him.  So I started aiming to become an EMT, and after that I went through the paramedic program.  I was blessed to be able to get the training.”

During his last few months on the bench, and in his late sixties, Bush heard cases during the day and attended his paramedic classes at night. Bob White was one of Bush’s classmates in paramedic training. 

“Initially everybody looked at him like, ‘What are you doing here?’ ” recalled White.  “I mean, one, can you do this physically, and two, why are you not retired? But the age thing went out the window real quick. He was probably in better shape than anyone in that class. … His cardio was second to none.”

White said that 40 students began the paramedic training program, and only 16 graduated.  Bush would take his classroom notes and combine them with textbook material to make comprehensive course outlines.  He would then invite fellow students to his home, share the outlines he had created, and quiz classmates on the material.

“It’s because of him that I did so well,” White said.  “Everyone who went to his study groups passed.”

Bush was the oldest person to ever complete the paramedics program, and he graduated valedictorian of his class.

But please, don’t call him extraordinary.

Medicine seems to run in the Bush family blood.  Bush’s twin brother is a surgeon.  His son is an ER doctor.  His daughter is a pharmacist.  His niece is a nurse practitioner.  But Bush went the legal route, embarking in private practice before becoming a magistrate judge, where he spent 13 and a half years. 

For Bush, it wasn’t about the money.  He took a pay cut in order to serve as a federal judge. 

“I became a judge because I think that is the highest calling for a trial lawyer.  I had tried over 100 cases before coming to the bench.”

Bush carried a very busy criminal docket, seeing as many as 55 offenders in one day.  But he always kept one thought in mind – people make mistakes.

“Even as a judge, I thought, ‘That person needs a second chance.’  I mean, sometimes I’d just sit there and counsel people. You really are in a position to make a difference in someone’s life.”

Lori Munoz, Relief Courtroom Deputy for the Northern District of Texas, worked with Bush both in his years as a private attorney and as judicial assistant during his years on the bench.

“He’s very compassionate.” Munoz remarked.  “He always noticed if the prisoners weren’t getting something.  As he got further into his paramedic studies, he grew more concerned with the patients and their medical needs at the prisons.  He’d remind everyone that they are entitled to their medical care.”

"My medic training also helped to make more informed decisions on whether a person was not receiving care or whether requests to delay a case for medical reasons were well founded or not," Bush said.

Now that he’s a paramedic, Bush is taking his faith and service to the streets. “I knew this was a way I could serve others and serve the Lord, especially in the clinic that I work in.” That clinic is QuestCare Watermark Community Partnership, a nonprofit urgent care clinic started by Watermark Church and Questcare, a group of medical doctors that includes his son, Dr. Matt Bush.  Bush works there two days a week.  “We are giving free medical care for anyone.  It’s open to everyone.  It’s nonjudgmental. Often patients have faced a personal and trying crisis,  whether as a refugee or living on the streets.”   

Outside of the clinic, Bush works for Texas Star Ambulance as a medic. This involves working 3-4 times a month on a 12 hour shift, primarily doing critical care transport and 911 back up. He enjoys taking care of patients in a critical care setting.  

Bush retired from the judiciary in August 2016.  He doesn’t practice law at all anymore. And when he’s not providing medical care in a free clinic or helping people one ambulance ride at a time, he is contemplating another mission trip to Haiti with his son. The last trip resulted in 750 people being treated over the course of four days.  

People who know Bush can’t help themselves; they do find him remarkable.

“He’s got more compassion than anyone I ever knew,” remarked White, Bush's former paramedic classmate.  “He has a kind heart. He’s a godly man.  He’s a giving man. … He’s just an extraordinary guy.”