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Inaugural event at Emory Sports Medicine Complex honors leader in orthopaedics

Left to right: Scott Boden, James Roberson, Lamar Fleming, and Thomas Whitesides.


The first event at the new Emory Sports Medicine Complex in Executive Park honored James Roberson, MD, who is stepping down as chair of the Department of Orthopaedics at Emory University School of Medicine after 15 years. Celebrating his clinical excellence and leadership at the February 3rd event were Emory leaders, past and present faculty members, and friends and family.

Several colleagues shared endearing stories about Dr. Roberson. Thomas Bradbury, MD, who acted as master of ceremonies for the evening, described Roberson as “the ultimate role model” in patient care and work-life balance and said he embodies the adage, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” An assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery, Dr. Bradbury directs the Orthopaedic Surgery Residency Program.

Vikas Sukhatme, dean of Emory University School of Medicine and chief academic officer for Emory Healthcare, summed up his respect for Roberson by saying, “It’s very clear from the moment you walk into a room—you sense his presence, his command of the situation, and the thoughtfulness that goes behind the comments that he makes.”

As the evening commenced, two former chairs of orthopaedics, Thomas Whitesides, Jr., MD, and Lamar Fleming, MD, shared a history of the department and provided a window into Roberson’s early career as a resident and junior faculty member.

Thomas Lawley, MD, the William Patterson Timmie Professor of Dermatology and former dean, who appointed Roberson as chair in 2002, acknowledged the accomplishments that occurred under Roberson’s leadership. These include the creation of the Emory Orthopaedics and Spine Center in Executive Park, the Emory Orthopaedics and Spine Hospital, and the Emory Sports Medicine Complex, which Dr. Lawley referred to as “the Hawks facility” for the partnership that Emory has forged as the official medical provider for the Atlanta Hawks.

Scott Boden, MD, professor of orthopaedic surgery, director of the Emory Orthopaedics and Spine Center, and vice chair of orthopaedics, thanked the Woodruff Health Sciences Center’s development team for organizing the event and offered a heartfelt tribute to Roberson’s “unwavering moral character.” Dr. Boden described his colleague as exemplifying “respect, belief, trust, loyalty and commitment. That is why we all follow him into battle.”

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Newly unveiled portrait of James Roberson

Highlights from the evening included stories from former orthopaedic residents who traveled from Charleston, SC, and Los Angeles, CA, to honor their mentor. “There is a very short list of people I would fly across the country for one evening to recognize. Dr. Roberson is one of them,” said Lindsay Andras, MD, an assistant professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. Lee Leddy, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Medical University of South Carolina, said Roberson taught residents “how to be responsible, compassionate and humble physicians.”

In a remarkable show of support, all 68 full-time faculty members in the Department of Orthopaedics contributed more than $325,000 to permanently endow the Kelly Society Fund in Roberson’s honor. This fund provides educational resources and opportunities to orthopaedic residents, one of Roberson’s greatest passions. Resident alumni from the last 15 years can support this fund to honor their mentor and friend.

The generosity did not end there. To the surprise of many in the room, Kelley Harrison Tison of the Luther and Susie Harrison Foundation announced that her foundation would create the R. Harold Harrison Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery to honor Roberson. This new chair is named for Ms. Tison’s late father, a Georgia business leader who organized the foundation in memory of his parents. Mr. Harrison was a patient of Roberson.

Boden introduced a second surprise speaker, Roberson’s wife, Susan, who stole the evening with candid stories that offered a glimpse into his personal life. “In another time he would have been a knight at the round table,” she said, echoing the sentiment of others who spoke that evening. “He is the kindest, most patient man I know.”

After unveiling a portrait of Roberson, Boden turned the podium over to the guest of honor. Humbled and honored, Roberson personally thanked each speaker and recognized his family for their love and support.

“What an unbelievable experience,” he said, summing up the evening and his career at Emory. “It has truly been a privilege and honor to serve the department.”

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