John Russell Curtis
November 7, 1934 – January 5, 2021
John Russell Curtis was born in Bessemer City, North Carolina where he grew up and went to high school. His father, the late James Richard Curtis, owned the neighborhood pharmacy. He spent many hours working in the drug store and interacting with the people in the small town. His mother, the late Nell Williams Curtis, was an avid reader and known to write poetry.
He attended the University of North Carolina where he received a BA in history and later went on to medical school and psychiatric residency. He spent one year at the Medical College of Georgia doing his internship. He had many awards while in college including, honor award for medical school paper on Congenital Coxa Varus and its Relationship to the Congenitally Short Femur, Outstanding Student, and Phi Chi Medical Fraternity, president, to name just a few. He was president in the Philanthropic Debating Society where he learned the gift of oration.
After college he moved to Lexington Kentucky, where he served in the Public Health Service. He was the head of the men’s addiction unit at the Federal Narcotic Hospital, and he served on the faculty at the University of Kentucky. He served also as an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Kentucky Medical School. While in Kentucky he was named a Kentucky Colonel.
In 1968 he moved to Athens where he became the youngest director of the University Health Service. In his 17 years with the University Health Service, he revamped the program turning it into the best in the Southeast and one of the best in the country. When he arrived, the Health Service was no more than a student infirmary. He pulled together a strong team of physicians and created a multi-disciplinary mental health service. He expanded the auxiliary services, e.g. pharmacy, lab, nutrition. He hired the first gynecologist and expanded the woman’s health program. He launched the first nurse practitioners program in Georgia (even before the Medical College of Georgia). He also began the dental program at the university. He spearheaded the expansion of the Gilbert Health Center. While there he became known as a national expert in student health and consulted in student health facilities throughout the country as president of the American College Health Association. He co-authored a book titled The Clergyman and the Psychiatrist. He also served as a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at both Emory and the Medical College of Georgia.
After leaving the university, he worked at Charter Winds hospital and served as its first medical director. At that time he opened his private practice. In that capacity he touched the lives of many people in northeast Georgia, particularly in the Athens community. He also consulted at the county mental health programs in Toccoa and Covington, Georgia. He retired in 1999. In 2009 Dr. Curtis began practicing psychiatry on a part-time basis until his full retirement in 2015.
He was a Distinguished Life Fellow in the American Psychiatric Association, President of the American College Health Association, President of the Georgia Psychiatric Association, elected Psychiatrist of the Year in Georgia, Who's Who in Health Care, President of the Southern College Health Association, Chairman of the Governor's Counsel on Mental Health and Mental Retardation under Governor George Busbee, Board Member of the Georgia Mental Health Association, was the first psychiatrist in Leadership Georgia, and a longstanding member of the Gridiron Secret Society. In college he held many leadership positions, including presidents of Phi Chi Medical Fraternity, Philanthropic Literary Society and Alpha Epsilon Delta Honorary Pre-Medical Society. He received honoraries, such as the Order of the Old Well and the Pi Alpha Theta Honorary History Society.
He has been an active member of St. Gregory’s Church and supported the Performing Arts Center, Georgia Museum of Art, the Humane Society, the Cancer Society and many other local and national charities. He was a member of the Athens Country Club, the University of Georgia President's Club, and the Medical Association of Georgia.
After retiring he spearheaded a book club for men, Athens Lyceum, which became known for its literary readings, lively intellectual discussions, and, as he always said, “pompous” membership.
He and his wife, Joan, traveled extensively, particularly to Italy where they made many friends. Along with is many lifelong accomplishments, he is most proud of his family. Spending time with them is what brought him the greatest joy. He is survived by his wife, Joan Curtis, his children, John Russell Curtis, Jr., Elizabeth Curtis (Liz), and Mary Curtis Gray, and his four grandchildren, John Richard Curtis, Emily Gray, Olivia Gray and Evan Dunlap as well as his brother, Donald W. Curtis, and his niece Donna McClatchey both of Raleigh, NC.
Donations in his memory can be sent to his much-loved church, St. Gregory the Great, 3195 Barnett Shoals Road, Athens, GA 30605. Or give online at https://www.stgregoryathens.org/giving-to-st-gregorys
Bernstein Funeral Home is in charge of funeral arrangements.
St. Gregory the Great
3195 Barnett Shoals Rd, Athens, Georgia 30605
A memorial service will be announced at a later day.
John Russell Curtis
Victoria Ann Bettis
January 7, 2021
This man was of profound influence on my life. Through discussions with him, I would come away with many ideas to separate into what I would deem necessary concepts, and what I would choose to leave behind. I can still hear our conversations when I'm weighing a decision after these many years. He taught me to laugh at myself, and embrace mistakes as learning opportunities. This guy was one of a kind.