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In Memory

James 'Gary' Atkins

April 1, 2013

A memorial service for James "Gary" Atkins, who died in December, will be held April 21 at the University Club in Lory Student Center.

Gary AtkinsGary, who was 72, was a notable musician and amateur radio operator He died in his Fort Collins home on Christmas night 2012, following a two-year battle with colon cancer. His wife of 43 years, Lorene, was by his side.

Gary was born in New York, NY, in 1940 to Jimmy and Wilma Atkins. The family moved to Denver in the early 1950s, and Gary remained a Colorado resident the majority of his life.

From Union County, Tennessee, the Atkins family counts among its members some of the finest musicians and showmen the world has ever known. During the war years, Jimmy Atkins, Gary’s father, made his mark as the lead singer for the original Les Paul trio, and found fame as a coast-to-coast radio talent in the 1940s. Jimmy used his success to help his younger brother, Chet, finger-pick his way out of the Smoky Mountains to eventually become a cornerstone of the Nashville music scene.

Gary was a guitar aficionado in his own right. He was a student of the transitional jazz era and studied under the tutelage of the legendary Johnny Smith, a mentor he affectionately referred to as "the master." The world of elite jazz guitarists is an esoteric fraternity, but among its members, Gary was well known. He occasionally took on students, but only those who demonstrated a willingness to dedicate themselves to the craft and agreed to pay for his services in beer, preferably something with a hoppy nose, malty backbone and smooth finish.

Virtuoso of the radio waves

Though a musician at heart, Gary was an electronic and broadcast engineer by trade. Having nearly failed out of Wheat Ridge High School in the mid 1950s, Gary went on to retire as the chief engineer of Instructional Services at Colorado State University. In recognition of his mastery of the subject matter, and his life-long dedication to training radio waves to obey his commands, the University conferred upon Gary an honorary Master’s Degree in Electronic Engineering, an honor rarely bestowed.

Gary’s fondness for manipulating the RF spectrum manifested itself in a nearly six-decade-long career as an amateur radio operator. As call sign W0CGR, Gary made documented two-way radio contact with nearly every country on earth using nothing more than a bit antenna, a transceiver and a Morse code key.

Gary’s partiality for Morse code traced its roots to the early 1960s when he was deployed to Vietnam as part of President Kennedy’s 10,000-troop escalation to work as a high-speed Morse intercept operator for the Army Security Agency. As with his ability to play guitar, Gary’s virtuoso-like ability to push radio waves around the globe transcended the ordinary and resembled art more than science.

Gary is survived by his wife Lorene, daughter Lynda, son Jay, sister Gale Ruster and five beautiful and creative grandchildren. His passing is mourned, too, by the same group of rowdy miscreants he had palled around with in high school. Down to a man they barely graduated, but sixty years on they are artists and geniuses all.

Gary was buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver with full military honors.

A memorial service to honor Gary’s memory will be held  2-4 p.m., Sunday, April 21, at the Colorado State University Lory Student Center University Club.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks interested parties to make a donation in Gary’s name to the CSU Library Foundation in care of Vessey Funeral Service, 2649 E. Mulberry St., A-1, Fort Collins, CO 80524.

It is with heavy hearts we say goodbye to Gary. But as the man himself would say as we walk towards a future a little less bright and certain, “Hey, pal, everything’s gonna be alright.”

Contact: Dell Rae Moellenberg
Phone: (970) 491-6009