The ACMT Connection Enews > ACMT Mourns the Loss of James Roberts, MD, FACMT, a Founding Member of ACMT

ACMT Mourns the Loss of James Roberts, MD, FACMT, a Founding Member of ACMT

In Memoriam 

images/Roberts.jpegJames (Jim) R. Roberts, 1946-2022

James (Jim) R. Roberts passed away on July 22, 2022 after a brief illness. Jim was one of ACMT’s founding members. Distinguished both as an Emergency Physician and Medical Toxicologist, he was a quintessential role model to many generations of physicians.

ACMT Past President Leslie Dye, MD, FACMT, and AACT Past President Michael Greenberg, MD, MPH, FACMT have graciously provided the following tributes.

From ACMT Past President, Leslie Dye, MD, FACMT:

The world of Emergency Medicine and Medical Toxicology lost an amazing pioneer and giant. It is difficult to contemplate and mourn such an immense loss, as postings pop up continuously from social media, academic publications, academic organizations, email, and text.  The tributes laud his academic accomplishments and his personality. I lost my mentor and dear friend on July 22, 2022. I truly believe we choose our paths based somewhat on our interests, but even more by the influence of a few special people. This man was one of the coolest people I have ever met, and I have yet to meet anyone else like him. He made emergency medicine and toxicology interesting, fun, challenging, and exciting. Many people know about his professional accomplishments-books, manuscripts, editorials. Many of us believe he was the best educator we ever had, and we had some amazing ones. 

But did you know about him running up and down the stairs and then checking blood gases on himself? How about the time a radiology resident was on a plane and a passenger dislocated his mandible and he used the "air phone" (yes, there was such a thing) to call the UC ED and Jim talked him through the procedure of reducing it in the air? How about the term he coined "pannus packing" when they brought someone in from the Cincinnati airport who had drugs hidden in his fat rolls and was trying to board a plane? He was the MacGyver of Emergency Medicine. We could try every instrument and procedure to solve a problem with a patient and Jim would run in with a paperclip, a straw, and a reflex hammer and devise a new technique to save the day!

How does one describe a unicorn? There are existing words, but he should have words that belong solely to him. Compassionate, irreverent, brilliant, funny, sarcastic, HUMBLE, modest, kind, inquisitive, and one of the best doctors I have ever met. He had this look where he squinted, turned his head, smiled slightly, then miraculously figured out what was going on with any patient. His medical mind was a wonder to observe. He had an innate, genuine, natural ability to maintain an open mind, remain passionate and curious and not be swayed by dogma. He always seemed to be having fun in the Emergency Department waiting for the next challenge. And just tell him there was something he couldn’t do!

Despite his everyman mien at work, he had a shyness outside of the hospital, so I feel honored that I can call him my friend of over 35 years. We texted, talked by phone, and met for dinner occasionally. I framed this photo that he texted me 5 years ago on his birthday, and it sits behind my desk at home. 

I am heartbroken, but I want to see that giant watching over me every day.

“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours. 

–John of Salisbury, Metalogicon, 1159

From AACT Past President Michael I. Greenberg, MD, MPH, FACMT:

I first met Jim Roberts on a chaotic ED night shift during the summer of 1976. Jim was a newly minted ED attending, I a newly minted emergency medicine intern. Our first patient together was a 10-day old in cardiorespiratory arrest secondary to a morphine overdose (….long story). Those were the days before ultrasound, IO lines and other sophistications in resuscitation we today take for granted. I watched in awe as Jim, with skill, calm, and aplomb successfully resuscitated the infant, saphenous vein cut down, baby intubation and all! I was hooked……..I wanted to be like Jim. And so began our 45-year relationship as friends and colleagues. (Jim Roberts factoid…I live in the house he sold to me 40 years ago!)

Jim was a pioneer in emergency medicine and medical toxicology. He entered both fields before either attained the imprimatur of validity offered by formal board certification. That took some guts but after realizing his initial training in obstetrics and gynecology (little known Jim Roberts factoid) was not going to be his cup of tea, emergency medicine seemed a perfect choice. The ensuing decades saw Jim start the first medical toxicology fellowship program in the city of Philadelphia and become integral in the training of more than 50 fellows and hundreds of emergency medicine residents. He became an encouraging force for many to enter the new specialty of medical toxicology. My own entry to field was invited by Jim. This happened as I was going through a personal tragedy…..Jim, trying to help me out of the depths of depression phoned and said…”hey, why not do a tox fellowship!?”. Doing this, Jim rescued me and changed my life and my entire career. For this I will be forever grateful.

Jim’s academic achievements are well known. He co-edited a classic textbook on emergency procedures relied on by generations of emergency physicians. He became nationally known for his lectures; often educational slide shows using clinical images he took himself. He mentored and guided several generations of emergency residents and toxicology fellows and thus his influence as a teacher will live on for many decades to come.

In his “Eulogy of a Doctor”, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:

“There are men and classes of men that stand above the common herd the soldier, the sailor, the shepherd not infrequently, the artist rarely, rarelier still the clergyman, the physician almost as a rule. He is the flower of our civilization and when that stage of man is done with, only to be marvelled at in history he will be thought to have shared but little in the defects of the period and to have most notably exhibited the virtues of the race. Generosity he has, such as is possible only to those who practice an art and never to those who drive a trade: discretion, tested by a hundred secrets; tact, tried in a thousand embarrassments; and what are more important, Herculean cheerfulness and courage. So it is that, he brings air and cheer into the sick room and often enough, though not so often as he desires, brings healing”.

This eulogy may as well have been written specifically for Jim Roberts. He was a consummate physician and teacher; a most uncommon man. Generosity, discretion, cheerfulness and courage as assigned by Stevenson describes the Jim Roberts I was honored to know. Jim was indeed all that…….and the proverbial bag of chips. He will be sorely missed.