Dr. Robert Shields Abernathy, 92, of Little Rock, Ark., and Durham, died Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, in the company of his family at his home in The Forest at Duke, in Durham. Robert “Bob” Abernathy was born Nov. 18, 1923, in Gastonia, the son of Thomas Jackson Abernathy and Emma Francis Glenn Abernathy.
He began his college education at Davidson College, but interrupted his studies to serve in the U.S. Army, continuing his undergraduate work at Yale University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and finishing at Duke University. He met his future wife, Rosalind “Ros” Smith, while they were both medical students at Duke University in 1944, and they were married on April 2, 1949, at the Duke University chapel, the same year they both received their medical degrees.
The newlyweds moved to University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where Bob completed his residency in internal medicine and Ros in pediatrics. Bob served as a first lieutenant and physician with the U.S. Army at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea in 1952. After his return he earned his doctorate of microbiology from the University of Minnesota in 1957.
Subsequently the Abernathys moved to Little Rock, Ark., where Bob joined the Department of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He was a widely respected and highly regarded faculty member there as well as at the Little Rock Veterans’ Administration Hospital for a total 45 years.
He served as chair of the Department of Medicine from 1967 to 1977, and then became the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases from 1977 till his retirement in 2002. Bob’s manifold contributions to his field were broadly recognized. He was named a fellow of the American College of Physicians, the national organization for internal medicine, in 1961, and received the very special honor of a Mastership from the same organization in 2002.
He received the Distinguished Faculty Award from the Arkansas Caduceus Club in 1983, and was inducted into the University of Arkansas Medical School College of Medicine Hall of Fame in 2005. Bob was also the inaugural recipient, in 1976, of the Arkansas Chapter of the American College of Physicians Laureate Award, subsequently known as the Robert Shields Abernathy Award.
Ros and Bob spent time each summer at their beach house on Pawleys Island, S.C., where Bob could be found relaxing with a mystery novel and enjoying time with his five children and, later, grandchildren. He was an expert crossword puzzle solver, finishing even the challenging cryptic puzzles from the Times of London.
He and Ros enjoyed travel and their many years in “The Natural State” of Arkansas. Bob took up running during his time in Little Rock and was a consistent medal-winner in his age group. He had a subtle sense of humor and was proud of his children and grandchildren and their achievements.
Bob’s legacy is one of integrity, dedication to and brilliancy in his field, service to his country and to the ill, and devotion to his beloved wife and family.
He will be deeply missed by his wife of 66 years, Dr. Rosalind Smith Abernathy, and his five children and their spouses: Robert Shields Abernathy Jr. and wife, Emily of Atlanta, Ga., David Smith Abernathy and wife, Rhonda of Morganton, Susan Gower Abernathy and husband, Steven Helton of Durham, Thomas Glenn Abernathy and wife, Elin Waring of City Island, N.Y., and Douglas Leslie Abernathy and wife, Elizabeth, of Oak Ridge, Tenn.
He is also survived by nine loving grandchildren, Steven David Abernathy and Emma Frances Abernathy, Kelli Abernathy Shackelford and Kristan Diana Abernathy, Linnea Susan Abernathy and Robert Waring Abernathy, and Rose Susan Abernathy, Celia Abernathy Bayliss, and Jane Lillian Abernathy. Bob is survived as well by his sister, Betty Francis Abernathy Wallace; and his sister-in-law, Lorraine Abernathy of Richmond, Va.
He was predeceased by his brothers, Thomas Jackson Abernathy Jr., and William E. Abernathy.
A memorial service will be held to celebrate Bob’s life at the Durham Friends Meeting, Saturday, Feb. 13, at 2 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Bob’s memory to the General Research Fund, College of Medicine, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; or to the charity of choice.