Many residents of Southeast Arkansas got to know Dr. George Roberson through the weekly medical columns he wrote for the Pine Bluff Commercial, while thousands of others knew him as the skilled and compassionate general surgeon who cared for them during his 45 years in medical practice.
Dr. Roberson, also known as “Sonny” to his friends, passed away on Wednesday, May 22, at his home, at the age of 77.
Collectively, the community is sharing in the loss of a true healthcare leader who was passionate about improving the lives of others.
Originally from Jonesboro, Dr. Roberson had what would seem by most to be a normal childhood. He played football, basketball, attended summer camp, and was a Boy Scout.
But a closer look revealed early signs of the remarkable and accomplished life ahead. Early on, Dr. Roberson showed signs of leadership by earning the designation of Eagle Scout, and later he was inducted as the first Vigil Member of the Order of the Arrow in Arkansas. He was also the last living member of the original group of Vigil Members of the Order of the Arrow in Arkansas.
In September 1961, Dr. Roberson graduated from medical school at the University of Tennessee, where he was first in his class and a member of the AOA Honor Society. He completed his internship at the City of Memphis Hospital, and conducted his residency at St. Johns Hospital in Tulsa and the University of Tennessee.
In 1967, Dr. Roberson moved to Pine Bluff and began practicing general, thoracic and vascular surgery, including laparoscopic and endoscopic procedures.
“Sonny came to town at an exciting time in our medical history,” says friend and colleague Charles Mabry, M.D., also a general surgeon at JRMC. “He was part of Pine Bluff’s first multi-specialty practice, the Doctor’s Clinic, and was instrumental in changing the way physician services were provided.
“I clearly remember how helpful Sonny was when I returned to Pine Bluff to practice surgery. He not only welcomed me, he served as a mentor. And 45 years later, he was still excited about helping new and existing physicians and being involved in the most current and effective ways to care for patients. He was an outstanding resource.”
Dr. Roberson was also close friends with Bob Atkinson, former CEO at JRMC.
“I’ve known hundreds of physicians over the years, and Sonny was undoubtedly one of the most dedicated,” Atkinson says. “Medicine was truly a calling for him, and only his family held more importance in his life. He was also one of the most empathetic people I’ve ever known. He didn’t talk about it much, but he felt a great personal responsibility to his patients. And his patients loved him in return. Whenever Sonny and I traveled together, it never failed that we would run into a patient or a patient’s family member that praised Sonny and felt so close to him. He touched people in that way.”
Having touched so many lives as a surgeon, Dr. Roberson found he had a built-in readership when he began writing a medical column for the Pine Bluff Commercial in 1988.
“When I started, I didn’t expect it to last so long,” Dr. Roberson once said, “but the community responded. After I’d been writing for a year or two, people started stopping me at places like the grocery store when I’d be out, so I knew it touched a nerve with people. I knew people were really reading.”
Through the years the column took on a life of its own, and other physicians began telling Dr. Roberson their patients were bringing his articles to their appointments to discuss certain topics with them.
“I think it was accepted by the medical community, and it was a way of giving back to the people of Southeast Arkansas”.
In addition to his private practice, Dr. Roberson made numerous contributions to the medical community as a whole. He was a member of the JRMC Medical Staff from 1967 to 2013 and held numerous leadership positions within the hospital, including Chief of Staff and 12 years on the Board of Directors.
According to Walter Johnson, current CEO of JRMC, “Sonny Roberson had a significant impact on the growth of the hospital and Pine Bluff’s medical community. He was one of the most supportive physicians that I’ve known in my career. He challenged us to advance while supporting the improvement process. In one way or another, he helped to improve the provision of healthcare to everyone who lives in Southeast Arkansas.”