Dr. E.T. “Ted” Rulison Jr., a surgeon who traveled the world as a volunteer doctor and noted underwater photographer, died Thursday of age-related complications, his family said. He was 98.
A son and grandson of physicians, Dr. Rulison had a surgical practice for 25 years in Sacramento and volunteered for many years at Sacramento County Hospital, now UC Davis Medical Center. He also practiced at Faith Hospital in Auburn and performed one of the first operations after Marshall Hospital opened in Placerville in 1959.
In 1963, he moved his family to Guatemala for several weeks to work at clinic set up by Sacramento doctors serving indigenous people in Chichicastenango. In addition to volunteering at hospitals in American Samoa and Saipan, he served as a ship’s physician on cruises that took him to every continent, including Antarctica.
Dr. Rulison was a lifelong photographer. During World War II, he took images of his service in Europe with the Army’s 51st Evacuation Hospital, a field unit established by Sacramento doctors and nurses. He later created a website and posted photos of his experiences, including treating battle casualties and visiting the Dachau concentration camp.
After retiring from private medical practice in 1976, he combined his passion for photography with underwater diving on trips around the world, including Mexico, Honduras, the Philippines, Saipan and Borneo. A member of the Northern California Underwater Photographic Society, he captured the diversity of sea life on the ocean floor in still shots and film on vacations and while working with leading scientists, divers and photographers.
“When you start diving, the first thing you do is get a spear gun and start spearing,” he told The Sacramento Bee in 1992. “I very quickly gave that up. Since I was always interested in photography anyway, I decided to get a camera down into the water with me. This way, instead of bringing the creatures up dead, I could bring them up alive on film.”
In 1981, Dr. Rulison joined a researcher from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography studying hammerhead sharks in the Sea of Cortez off Baja California, Mexico. He shot footage of manta rays and hammerheads that later was broadcast often on the “National Geographic” TV program. He also worked with a TV crew from ABC and “Jaws” author Peter Benchley in Baja California on a segment for the show “American Sportsman.”
A Sacramento native, Elbert Theodore Rulison Jr. was born May 26, 1915. His father, E.T. Sr., served on the first board of Sutter Hospitals and was believed to be the first professionally trained general surgeon in Sacramento.
A distinguished student, he graduated from Sacramento High School in 1932, Stanford University in 1936 and Harvard Medical School in 1939. His residency in anesthesiology at the Mayo Clinic was interrupted by World War II. He returned to Minnesota after the war, changed his specialty to surgery and met his wife, Jean Bollman.
Dr. Rulison lived in Cameron Park since 1971. He volunteered for about 10 years as a TV photographer, editor and producer on programs for the local public access channel in El Dorado County, including a medical show with his son, who is also a physician.
“My dad was born with a camera in his hand,” said his daughter Sally. “He was very outgoing, and he loved engaging with people.”
Besides his wife of 65 years and daughter, Dr. Rulison is survived by another daughter, Lisa; a son, John; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
No service is planned. Memorial donations may be made to the American River Conservancy, P.O. Box 562, Coloma, CA 95613; or to any charity.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.