PARKERSBURG - Ron Atkinson, the longtime professor and chairman of the Social Sciences Division at West Virginia University at Parkersburg, labeled a one-of-a-kind icon, died Sunday night at Camden Clark Medical Center following an illness.
WVU-P President Marie Foster Gnage called Atkinson an icon.
"Students loved him as he loved them," Gnage said. "I am sure that he is one professor they will never forget."
Gary Waggoner, who worked for more than 35 years at the college, had an office adjacent to Atkinson.
"We encounter thousands of students and I can't say I heard a student say they didn't like him," he said. "That gift some teachers have of inspiring students, he had that. Ron was very inspirational."
Atkinson came to the college in 1965, joining the faculty when the school was on Emerson Avenue.
Atkinson was from McDowell County, growing up in Jenkinjones. Despite living in the Mid-Ohio Valley for close to 40 years, he still retained his southern West Virginia accent.
"He was very fond of and proud of being from Jenkinjones. He had that McDowell County twang," said Bernie Allen, a longtime colleague at WVU-P.
Allen first met Atkinson in 1966, when he joined the college faculty. Allen retired in 1999.
"We were very close colleagues," Allen said. "He was a very good, effective division chairman and a firm advocate for his faculty."
Allen said Atkinson was an outstanding classroom teacher, who was selected many times as professor of the year.
"His success in the classroom inspired me to try to emulate him," Allen said. "No one could teach the way he taught.
"I learned a lot from him."
Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said Atkinson's lessons were more sermon than lecture. Waggoner recalled Atkinson's lectures as boisterous.
"If you had a class next door to his, your students got the experience of two classes at once, yours and his."
"He was very good at what he did. He was missed after he retired," Newell said.
Newell said it was Atkinson who hired him to teach at the college. He loved to argue and challenge students for a response, Newell said.
"He loved to be cutting edge and to say things to get a response from students."
"Ron Atkinson was beloved by students, faculty, and staff at WVU Parkersburg. His energy and enthusiasm for learning were contagious and we will always be inspired by his legacy," said Rhonda Tracy, senior vice president for academic affairs at WVU-P.
Atkinson never drove. He never had a driver's license, instead relying on his wife, Ann, to provide shuttle service to and from the college.
Keith Burdette credits Atkinson for his foray into politics. Burdette is a former state lawmaker currently serving as secretary of commerce. In the mid-1970s, Burdette, coming off an internship in government, was critical of some of the things he saw.
"(Atkinson) said, you think you are so smart, why don't you run. ... He double dared me," Burdette recalled.
Burdette doubts he's alone in having Atkinson impact his life.
"I suspect there isn't any of this students who don't have a Ronnie Atkinson story somewhere. Most of the stories I can't repeat without editing."
Funeral services will be 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Parkersburg. Visitation will be 9-11 a.m. Thursday in the Wesley Room at St. Andrews.
Roush Funeral Home in Ravenswood is handling the arrangements.