CHAMPAIGN — Playing Mother Ginger in "The Nutcracker" — with a beard, no less — may not be the first credential you'd tick off for a University of Illinois trustee.
Dr. Stuart King has plenty of others on his résumé — Christie Clinic anesthesiologist, medical school administrator, clinical professor, pilot, three-time UI alumnus, former Army medic and Eagle Scout, loyal Illini fan.
But agreeing to wear an enormous hoop skirt on stage to support his ballerina daughter? That's devotion, says Terri King, his wife and a fellow physician.
"He's got a really big heart. And he really cares very deeply for the U of I, or for his patients, or for his family," she said.
Plus, "he was hilarious, although I'm biased."
Stuart King, 51, will step into his new role as a UI trustee this week when the board meets in Urbana. He was appointed in July by fellow Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner as the first trustee from Champaign County in a decade.
It's a role he's honored to accept.
"This school was so good to me. I wouldn't be a doctor if I hadn't come here. I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if the university hadn't supported me," King said Thursday.
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King has a "wow moment" in medical school to prove it.
But first, he had to explore other options.
He didn't go straight to the UI after graduating from Central High School, choosing Parkland College instead.
"I had no idea what I wanted to do," he said. "I often say at points in my life where I could have gone left or right, Parkland held out a warm and open hand and in general said, 'Let's find a place for you.'"
He thought about finance, then computer science. He'd always loved tinkering with computers, ever since his Boy Scout days when he learned how to do programming long before most people had home computers, said sister Julie Shapland, a UI accounting lecturer.
"He's just very smart and he's interested in a lot of different things, and technology is one of them," she said.
King eventually made it to the UI, and after graduation with a degree in biology, he enrolled in the UI College of Medicine. He'd always been fascinated by being a doctor, but the potential impact hit home in medical school.
"I got to participate in a heart transplant, and after helping the surgeon take the beating heart from a human being and rinse it in ice-cold slushy salt water, he let me carry the bowl with the slush and the heart down the hall. And I walked into the next room, where another entire team had been working on a 14-year-old boy. And I handed this mixing bowl with a heart in it — ice-cold and sitting still and ashen — to a nurse, who looked at it and looked up at the surgeon and said, 'We've got it and it looks good.'
"And then they sewed it into this 14-year-old boy and the thing leapt to life. It turned pink and started beating. I thought, 'Wow, I carried that down the hall and a 14-year-old boy is alive now," he said.
"It was one of those things you'll never forget," King said. "It sort of helped cement that I had made the right choice."
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Friends and family members say King has the qualities to be a good trustee: smart, focused, friendly and caring.
He's the kind of guy who recalls what he ate on his first date with his wife, who takes his nephew out for breakfast in his plane, who arranges favors for friends with no fanfare, who never missed a tennis match or ballet recital for his kids.
"He has a quiet demeanor but he's also kind of intense, in a good way," said Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen, who's known him since they were kids. "He pays attention, and he's a good listener. He's just a good person."
Parkland College President Tom Ramage, who's known King for more than five years, said he's generous with his time and resources.
When Ramage's wife broke her ankle on a vacation in a remote spot in the Bahamas, she posted a note on Facebook saying they had to cut their trip short.
"Stuart had a doctor lined up to see her the morning we returned at 7:30 a.m. He just did it," Ramage said.
King has been a strong supporter of Parkland's aviation program, Ramage said, even taking some classes recently, and served on the Parkland Foundation board until he took the UI trustee post.
"Energetic is the word to describe him," Ramage said.
Feinen said King is "forward thinking. He's not someone who just does it the same way because that's the way they've always done it."
"He cares about the university and he cares about the community, which for me as a mayor, not just his friend, is important," Feinen said.
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King's family has deep roots in Champaign County and the UI, dating back to his great-grandparents' farming days in the area.
His grandfather, Eric King, ran the King's Kastle burger place in Rantoul (now a Mexican restaurant) and another one on Wright Street in Champaign (where Papa Del's got started). Stuart King has plates that say "King's Kastle," scooped up by his father at a Rantoul garage sale a few years back.
"My grandfather served the Tuskegee Airmen when they came through Chanute," he said. "I have patients from Rantoul who still remember it."
His father, Gene King, is a retired orthodontist who fitted a good portion of the teeth in Champaign-Urbana with braces. He also attended the UI — he and Stuart had the same organic chemistry professor — and later trained at the UI College of Dentistry in Chicago.
His mom, Nancy Casteel King, a well-known Realtor, grew up on Illini Road in Springfield. One of his aunts used to work at McKinley Health Center, and an uncle worked in the UI Department of Agronomy.
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As a child, Stuart King was an "awesome older brother," Julie Shapland said, always looking out for his kid sister.
She and Feinen were best pals and went horseback-riding almost every day together at a stable in Savoy. King's allergies kept him from riding, but he would occasionally ferry the girls to the barn from their Park Lane home on his snowmobile.
He got interested in Boy Scouts through some older friends, and enjoyed the camping and canoeing. He still draws on scouting values, especially citizenship.
King's dad and grandfather were both pilots, so flying came naturally. He did his ground-school training at Parkland during high school but didn't get his license until after he finished his medical training. He and his wife often fly to North Carolina to visit her family or their daughter in Texas.
King played hockey as a kid and football for a year at Central — "I was never a star" — and at an Episcopalian boarding school in Arden, N.C., where he spent his junior year.
"Some of my friends had gone away to school, and I wanted to be cool, too," he said. "It was a great experience."
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During college, King found time for another interest — music. Specifically, deejaying.
He'd always had good taste in music across the board, from symphonies to new releases, Shapland said.
He made playlists and programmed early computers to play songs and worked as a DJ at local bars, back in "the day when they'd have albums and you'd have to transition them with beats per minute," she said.
He also joined the Illinois Army National Guard to help pay for medical school, serving in the medical corps. He never saw military action, primarily doing physicals on recruits during training.
"They're very patient with doctors in the Army. Our uniforms aren't always straight, but they're happy that we're good doctors," he said.
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King met his wife during his residency in Kansas City, where she was chief resident in radiology and he was a first-year intern.
"I met her on day one, and she was very focused on her radiology images. It was a Saturday and she had a lot of work to do. I just thought she was adorable. I kept trying to have a conversation with her. I chased her for about four months before I was able to," he said.
He used an upcoming talk about radiology imaging as an excuse to get some advice from her.
"After about the first 30 minutes, she realized I wasn't as interested in the talk as I was with her," he said.
On their first date, he took her to Houston's restaurant, where they had potato soup and bread, and to the art museum, which featured an Andrew Wyeth exhibit. He bought her the poster advertising the exhibit, which included the date, telling her, "You want to hang on to this, it'll all mean something someday."
They were married not long afterward.
When the couple moved to South Carolina, where King worked in private practice, Terri King started doing radio telemetry, reading radiology reports from home for VA hospitals. It made it easier for her to be with their three kids, but Stuart King was there, too, his kids' biggest "cheerleader," she said.
They moved back to Champaign when he decided to shift his medical practice full-time to pain management. Shapland, who had lobbied for the move home, arranged a meeting with then-Christie Clinic CEO Alan Gleghorn, and they "hit it off."
"It was probably one of the smartest moves I ever made," King said.
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King applied for the UI board vacancy online earlier this year. He had met board Chairman Tim Koritz, a fellow anesthesiologist, years ago, and said he was inspired to give back to the UI, too.
King was called for an interview with Secretary of Education Beth Purvis and other Rauner staff members. There weren't a lot of policy questions.
"They were very serious about ethics. They wanted to make sure that you had a good sense of north. That actually reassured me," he said.
He attended a trustee budget committee meeting last week and will also serve on the board's hospital committee. He's excited both about the "phenomenal" UI health system in Chicago and the game-changing potential for the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine. He taught at the existing regional medical school at the Urbana campus and served as an interim dean until he took the board position.
King shied away from discussing specific issues or priorities as trustee, saying "overarching vision" and good governance are more important. He doesn't want to "get into the weeds and micromanage anything."
He sees his job as representing the people of the state and ensuring the UI is "functioning in an honest, transparent, efficient and effective way."
"I think it's very important when decisions are made that the stakeholders are taken into consideration and that everybody has input," he said. "Processes are there as a safeguard."
So what about that war chant? He declined to comment directly, saying he wants to wait until he gets "all the information."
"I do believe that governance is one of the most important jobs of the board of trustees and I do not intend to abdicate my responsibilities," he said.
King said the UI's ultimate value lies in its faculty: "They are the expert minds that we have to ensure we have the ability to research and work out the world's problems to try to solve them. It's our job to ensure that happens."
The Stuart King file
Job: Pain management specialist at Christie Clinic.
UI experience: Clinical professor and interim dean for academic affairs at regional medical school in Urbana until he was appointed trustee in July.
Education: Central High School (Class of ‘84); Parkland College (Class of ‘87); three degrees from the UI — bachelor’s of science in 1990, M.D. from the College of Medicine in 1995 (UI Chicago) and MBA in 2010.
Family: Terri King is a radiologist for the Veterans Affairs hospital system. Son Jamie, 24, just earned his master’s at the London School of Economics and works in Champaign. Twin daughters Erin and Madison, 19, are in college — Erin, a sophomore in business at the UI, and Madison, a senior in child development at Texas Christian.