FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. | Richard B. Atkinson of Fayetteville, Arkansas, passed away early Thursday, Aug. 4, 2005 in Chicago, Illinois, while attending the American Bar Association annual meeting. He was 58. He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 3, 1946, to Richard Jasper and Mary Louise Hess Atkinson, who resided in Elkin, North Carolina.
Richard was a man of complete integrity, of surpassing peace, and of an easy grace and elegance. As a friend he was constant and unfailingly compassionate. As a professor he was unequaled in his ability to maintain high expectations as well as an abiding personal interest in each of his students. As dean he brought out the best in each of his colleagues. He possessed both an amazing intellect and personal warmth which affected everyone he knew. He was universally revered.
The center of his life was his sustaining relationship with Michael Hollomon, his life partner. Certainly Richard would have attributed much of his success, especially his recent leadership as dean, to the support of Michael. He was also devoted to his parents, to his two brothers, John and Paul, and to their families.
Upon hearing of Dean Atkinson's death, students, both former and current, expressed their loss. ''I can't imagine the law school without him there,'' said first-year student, Andy Lunsford. ''There are lots of good classes, but through Dean Atkinson we could see our potential and our future. He knew every student well, not just those in his classes. He came to every law school event. He made the law school happy and positive.'' Another student remembered, ''He was scary in there (the classroom). He was so intelligent he made me want to do my absolute best.''
Richard made everyone want to do and be their absolute best, and that is his legacy to his friends, his relatives, and his colleagues.
Atkinson grew up in Elkin, North Carolina, was an honor graduate of Elkin High School, and then attended Duke University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts, graduated Phi Beta Kappa. In 1971, he received a master's degree in divinity from Yale University, and received a Juris Doctorate from Yale in 1974. He was admitted to practice in Georgia, became an associate with the law firm of King and Spalding in Atlanta and had been a visiting professor at the University of North Carolina, Emory University, and Georgia State University. He was recruited to the University of Arkansas by his law school classmate and later, President Bill Clinton.
Recalling the fact that Richard moved to Fayetteville about the same time that the Clintons moved to Little Rock to enter public life, Clinton said, ''We left and he stayed. He used to joke that both decisions were good for the law school.'' He concluded, ''Richard always lived as he believed, that we could always be better tomorrow than we were.''
Atkinson was selected by the graduating class to participate in the hooding ceremony at commencement virtually every year since its inception in the early 1990's. He was chair of the Faculty Appointments Committee, gave bar review lectures around the nation and also received state-committee appointments by the governor of Arkansas, including serving a stint as chair of the Worker's Compensation Reform Commission. Atkinson's primary teaching and research interests were in the areas of property, real estate transactions, and wills and trusts. He often said, ''Against the advice of many of my friends I continue to teach. Teaching is too much fun for me to give up entirely.''
Acting Dean Carol Goforth included the following statement when she addressed the faculty and staff: ''In my time here, first as a student, later as a faculty member, and as associate dean, I saw nothing of Richard but the very best qualities which I hope we all aspire to possess -- compassion, professionalism, good cheer, humor, dedication, joy, hope, optimism. Richard had a spot in his heart for everyone with whom he dealt. He cared deeply for all of us, and we will all feel the loss caused by his absence.''
In addition to his commitment to the School of Law, Richard had been a member of the Board of Directors of the Washington Regional Medical Center since 1980, and had served as chairman three times. He was also a founding board member of the Northwest Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute, as well as an active patron of the arts.
He is survived by his partner, Michael Hollomon, director of psychiatric services at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville. Other survivors include the following: John Atkinson and his wife, Lee, of Greensboro, N.C., Paul Atkinson and his wife, Scarlett, of Myrtle Beach; his nieces and nephews, Sarah Atkinson and her husband, Grant Gosch, of Asheville, N.C., David Atkinson of Charleston, Lauren Atkinson of Greensboro, N.C., Jeremy Martin, his wife, Stacey, and their son, Jaxon, of Chapin, Jason Martin of West Columbia; his aunt, Betty Duffield, and his cousin, Susie Bleich, both of Fayetteville, and a host of other cousins around the country. He will always be ''Uncle Dick'' to his family and to many others.
A funeral service will take place at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, on Tuesday, Aug. 9, at 10 a.m. with a reception following in the parish hall.
In addition, a memorial service, celebrating the life and legacy of Richard B. Atkinson, is being planned for later in the fall. Details of that service will be made available once a date, time, and location have been determined.
Sign a guest book at MyrtleBeachOnline.com.
In lieu of flowers, please send memorials to the UofA School of Law Building Fund, 124C Leflar Law Center, Fayetteville, AR 72701, or to the Washington Regional Foundation, PO Box 356, Fayetteville, AR 72702.
Arrangements by Moore's Chapel, Fayetteville, Ark.
Published by The Sun News on Aug. 7, 2005.