SALT LAKE CITY —While growing up without some of the basic necessities in life, Pamela Atkinson created a strategy for one day breaking free from poverty.
Her plan as a child was to marry a rich man and “forget all about poor people,” as she wryly recalled in a video presentation during a banquet held in her honor Thursday at the Little America Hotel.
“I think the Lord had other things in mind for me,” Atkinson said.
Hundreds stood to give Atkinson a rousing ovation as she was presented Thursday with the Legacy of Life award from the Intermountain Research and Medical Foundation.
Atkinson, a renowned philanthropist in Utah, expressed gratitude for her calling in life as she accepted the honor.
“I have to think, what an awesome God that he could take someone like me and have me doing the kind of things I’m doing now,” she said. “The people struggling in poverty — what a great blessing it is to be able to give them — it may be just a few small things, it may be the basics. It may be shampoo and soap. It may be hot water. But all of those things that make such a difference in people’s lives.”
The annual Legacy of Life award and banquet “recognizes eminent leaders with Utah ties for their contributions to the well-being of mankind.” Proceeds are used to advance cardiovascular and pulmonary health worldwide, according to the Intermountain Research and Medical Foundation.
Atkinson, originally from England, has previously served as vice president of Mission Services at Intermountain Healthcare. She currently serves in various capacities with the state’s Homeless Coordinating Committee, the Refugee Advisory Board and the Utah Coalition Against Pornography.
The video honoring Atkinson featured tributes from some of Utah’s most prominent faith, business and political leaders. Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke fondly of Atkinson’s “deep and abiding love for all of his children and particularly those who are less fortune.”
In the tribute video, Elder Ballard recalled visiting a destitute community of transients along the Jordan River with Atkinson, saying he was amazed at how well she knew exactly what to bring to those people and how easily she related to them.
“Those who were there all called out to Pamela and (talked to her) as their long lost friend,” Elder Ballard said.
Charles Dahlquist II, national commissioner of the Boy Scouts of America and former Young Men general president of the LDS Church, remembered a time when he and his family joined Atkinson in feeding the homeless on Christmas Day. Dahlquist’s children initially questioned the activity, he said, asking why they were out and about when they could be home relaxing and enjoying themselves.
“(But) as we left that night, they said, ‘why haven’t we been doing this before?” said Dahlquist, who emceed the banquet, becoming slightly emotional. “So Pamela, you have some converts in the Dahlquist family.”
Atkinson specifically thanked Dahlquist and Elder Ballard for their longtime friendship during her remarks.
“I may be Presbyterian, but I’ll honestly tell you I couldn’t do half of what I do without the LDS Church,” she said. “They’ve bene so kind, so gracious and done so much (to help) meet the needs of the people with whom I work.”
Elder Ballard was joined at the banquet by fellow apostles President Russell M. Nelson, Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Gary E. Stevenson, as well as President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of the LDS Church.
Gov. Gary Herbert also honored Atkinson in her tribute video, saying the charity work she has done “is extremely vital to the communities that she serves and … really makes Utah a better place.”
“I know that you love everybody, and because of that, everybody loves you, Pamela,” Herbert said.
Atkinson works in an advisory role to Herbert and state legislators on public policy. She has also served on the Utah State Board of Regents, State Board of Education and the College of Applied Technology board.
Dr. Kent Jones, a cardiovascular surgeon for Intermountain Medical Center, was also honored Thursday with the scientific Legacy of Life award. Medical colleagues, business leaders and family members honored Jones in a video presentation, describing him as an extreme overachiever and a renowned pioneer in the field of heart surgery.
Dr. Donald Lappe said Jones’ work with other foremost surgeons has led to “miraculous” results for numerous patients over the past few decades.
“Some of these (patients) … have come into (the hospital) in a wheelchair or on oxygen … and the next day they walk out of the hospital fully recovered and are able to go on to a normal life,” Lappe said.
Cappey Jones said she is grateful for the clear impact her husband has had on heart patients over the years.
“He wants to save lives and make a difference, and he’s done that for a long time now,” she said.
Kent Jones said he feels like the luckiest man alive because of the fulfilling career he’s been able to lead.
“If I could cut this (award) up and give it to any people in this audience that’s what I’d do, because there’s so many people with Intermountain Healthcare that have contributed to the legacy and life of our patients. … To be able to practice a speciality that I love for the past 40 years, it doesn’t get much better than that,” he said.
Jones is also a clinical professor of surgery at the University of Utah. He completed the second heart transplant ever in the Intermountain West in 1985 — the first ever at LDS Hospital.
Jones previously served as chairman of the Division of Cardiovascular Surgery for Intermountain Healthcare. He also served as chairman of the Division of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery for Intermountain Healthcare, LDS Hospital and Intermountain Medical Center.
Jones is also a past president of the Crimson Club board of directors at the University of Utah.
Stephanie Horne Clark, director of private banking at Zions Bank, was honored at the same banquet Thursday with the Gold Caduceus Award.
Clark’s video tribute described her as a visionary who has pioneered several groundbreaking projects for Zions Bank and the Intermountain Research and Medical Foundation, where she serves on the executive board. Among those initiatives are mental health projects that benefit Intermountain Healthcare, her presenters said.
“I am someone who has suffered for a very long time with mental health challenges, and it has been something I have been very afraid of for a long time to talk about, to admit this is something that I struggle with,” Clark told the banquet audience. “It is so important to me that (other) people not be afraid to say something … because there is hope.”