Honoring a Legacy: Dr. Greg Dunnavant with California State Parks

California State Parks lost more than a Medical Director when Greg Dunnavant passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, January 23, 2021. We lost a unique individual who brought a wide range of skills and had a huge impact on our operations and our staff. Dr. Dunnavant did not know the impact he would have on our department or it on him when he joined us nearly 20 years ago.

As the Medical Director for the California Highway Patrol in the early 2000s, Dr. Dunnavant was also unwittingly assigned to oversee the First Aid programs in the Department of Parks and Recreation. His first introduction was to participate in the Department’s first Emergency Medical Technician class at Huntington State Beach. Over the years he often retold the story of not knowing what to expect when he came to teach emergency medicine to a bunch of Rangers and Lifeguards. He was quickly won over by the depth and complexity of the questions in class, the dedication of the employees, their experience in the field, and a trip on the Surfwatch vessel where the lifeguards made a number of rescues. Dr. Dunnavant often said that it became apparent that his time working with us would allow him to save many more people than he could individually as a physician in his hospital’s Emergency Department.

Dr. Greg Dunnavant at Ocean Lifeguard Training – Huntington State Beach, circa 2001
(Photo Credit: Alex Peabody, Former Aquatic Specialist, LEES)

The introduction of a mid-western Medical Director who was a Special Forces Officer (Green Beret Major), a Utah Highway Patrolman, an Emergency Department Physician, and law school attendee was unusual, at first. However, Dunnavant’s intelligence, skill, humility, and humor quickly won over the staff. There was a mutual admiration that grew into friendships and later to being a family. The training staff even got used to his eclectic enjoyment of AC/DC, Johnny Cash, and Chopin. Over the years, Dr. Dunnavant shed his role as CHP Medical Director, stopped serving as Medical Director for Utah Fire Departments and Search / Rescue Teams, quit working as a Utah Highway Patrol Officer, and scaled back his efforts as SkyWest’s Medical Director. However, as these associations dwindled, he filled the void with California State Parks.

Dr. Dunnavant rarely missed a Lifeguard Training, Basic Visitor Services Training, or Emergency Medical Services class in 20 years. Only obligations to his patients, his parents/family, or the Army kept him from coming to teach, mentor, and support dozens of classes. It was through these many interactions with our staff that he developed our instructors to be the best, pushed our students to be the best, and worked to make sure we had some of the best training in the state and beyond.

Dr. Greg Dunnavant at Ocean Lifeguard Training – Crystal Cove State Park, 2019 (Photo Credit: Drasko Bodganovich, Seasonal Lifeguard II, San Diego Coast)

As the Department’s first Medical Director, Dunnavant ushered in the use of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) to combat one of the leading causes of death in the world. He instituted evidence-based treatment for drowning patients to combat one of the leading causes of death in our parks. He developed training in tactical medicine, to combat one of the leading causes of death by trauma. These efforts made our public safety staff able to respond to the most difficult of calls with the knowledge, skills, and competence to give their patients the best chance of survival. Many of our staff have thank-you letters addressed to them from people saved in the line of duty…those letters should have also listed Dr. Dunnavant as a reason they survived.

During his time with California State Parks, Dr. Dunnavant married the love of his life and soul mate (Cindy) who brought him immense joy, provided him with a family he never thought he would have, and continued to share him with his California State Parks family. As is often the case in California State Parks, there is much overlap between working relationships and personal relationships. It became common for Cindy to venture to California when Greg was teaching and spend time with Dunnavant’s co-workers and friends.

Dr. Greg and Cindy Dunnavant in Pacific Grove, 2019
(Photo Credit: Ryan Rzab, State Park Peace Officer Supervisor (Ranger), Northern Buttes)

Every class he taught, he would write his personal cell phone number on the board and invite anyone to call him at any time for any reason. Dunnavant was always available to dive into a work issue, help a struggling student, support a friend in the field, or share a meal with anyone who was willing to laugh and not take themselves too seriously. These times apart from the field or the classroom that Dunnavant’s impact will be missed as much as his memorable contributions to our training and public safety operations. He mentored many people in their professional and personal development in these personal interactions and help them develop their lives.

Greg Dunnavant will be remembered fondly and often for his love of parks, his love for staff, and his drive to always do better.

In order to share information about Dr. Dunnavant’s services, LEES Division has set up a SharePoint page at the following link: Dr. Dunnavant’s Memorial Service Page. This is an internal link and will not work for folks outside the Department. The intent for this page is to share information with everyone who is interested in updates. We will update the page as information becomes available. 

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