05/05/10 — Dr. James Atkins honored with Distinguished Service Award

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Dr. James Atkins honored with Distinguished Service Award

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on May 5, 2010 1:46 PM

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Dr. James Atkins, second from left, is shown with a portrait that was presented to him Tuesday night as he received the Distinguished Service Award from the Tuscarora Council of the Boy Scouts of America. From left are Atkins' wife, Sherry; Atkins; council President Tom Yarboro; and Sam Hunter, the recipient of last year's award and chairman of the council's Distingished Service Steering Committee.

Dr. James Atkins, whose work in treating cancer patients and pushing the boundaries of research into the disease has earned him national recognition, was honored Tuesday night by the Tuscarora Council of the Boy Scouts with its annual Distinguished Service Award.

The award was presented at a banquet at the Walnut Creek Country Club.

Atkins, who has treated hundreds of area residents suffering from cancer, maintains an "uncanny rapport" with his patients, said Dr. Sam McLamb, who convinced Atkins to move to Wayne County in the 1980s.

"This county has greatly benefited by his presence," McLamb said, noting the personalized, straightforward manner with which Atkins works with his patients.

Atkins, a native of Massachusetts, is a graduate of the Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem. He worked for the U.S. Public Health Service in New Mexico early in his career and came to Goldsboro in 1984. He opened Southeastern Medical Oncology Center in 1990. It now has four offices, in Goldsboro, Clinton, Wilson and Rocky Mount.

Col. James Ravella, who was stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base while his late wife was being treated for cancer, called Atkins more than just a physician. He truly cares about each of his patients, Ravella said, and is therefore able to provide comfort as well as medical treatment.

"We all want our doctor to be the very best," Ravella said. "But, also, we want them to care about us. When you find both, then you have Jim Atkins. He has that rare combination of qualities.

"He is an amazing, caring doctor," Ravella said, adding that whenever he and his wife went for an office visit, Atkins always made them feel as if they were his only patients.

Atkins maintained a positive attitude throughout his wife's treatment, Ravella said, helping her to do the same.

"He told us, 'It's important for you to keep living. Don't let cancer take over your lives."

He said Atkins' staff exhibits the same caring attitude that he does.

"That doesn't happen without a leader that effects that," he said.

Ravella said that in his wife's final days, when they were living in Texas, that he needed to talk with both an expert doctor and a friend.

"I only had to make one phone call," he said.

Susan Tuttle of the Southeast Cancer Control Consortium, said most people in Wayne County don't realize the work Atkins does at the state, regional and national level in the fight against cancer. His drive has helped promote clinical trials across the five states that are included in the consortium and helped push new medicines and treatments for cancer patients, she said.

Citing his penchant for cowboy boots and jeans instead of the usual physician's attire, she called Atkins a true "maverick," and said his casual manner and friendly demeanor helps ease his patients' concerns.

She noted the number of awards he has received nationally for his work and said he is always ready to help other doctors.

"I really cannot say enough good things about Atkins," she said.

Tom Yarboro, the president of the Tuscarora Council, said Atkins exemplifies the values that Scouting tries to instill in boys and young men. The Distinguished Service Award is designed to show youth that leadership and character are important, he said.

"The lives of distinguished citizens put in place guideposts that serve to inspire our youth to lead, to accept responsibility and to care about principles and causes beyond self-interest," Yarboro said.

Atkins thanked the council committee that selected him and thanked his family, especially his wife, Sherry, for allowing him the time to pursue his work. He said the Scouting is a crucial part of the American fabric.

"Our children are our future," he said. "The Boy Scouts do a good job of teaching them those values we all share. America need those values now more than ever."