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Ernest Atlas, 82

Ernest Atlas of Santa Fe, New Mexico, a former Westport resident and specialist in infectious diseases, died March 7 due to complications from gastric cancer surgery. He was 82.

He was an infectious disease specialist with the Norwalk Medical Group in Norwalk for over 30 years.

He was also on the staff as an associate professor at the Yale Medical School in New Haven, as well as chief of infectious diseases at Norwalk Hospital for 30-plus years, and later in semi-retirement at Vail Medical Center in Vail, Colorado.

He was an old-school physician, and many other doctors valued his professional standards and thorough consults, and being described as old school was the highest level of compliment to him. He committed very long hours to his patients, whether seeing them in the office, making house calls or being called in as a consult for difficult cases.

He took great pride in besting computers and puzzling out the diagnosis on his own. His old school diligence and patience saved many, many lives over the years, particularly when he was called in as a consultant for mysterious infections.

He chose infectious disease because it was an exciting, intellectual challenge and it kept evolving as new infections arose.

At Norwalk Hospital he was at the forefront of a 2003 breakout of Legionnaire’s Disease at the hospital, then, sadly, the AIDS epidemic and more recently outbreaks of Lyme Disease and flesh eating bacteria.

Only an infectious disease specialist such as Ernie Atlas could be intrigued and thrilled by these new and deadly infections.

He loved many sports, he loved to cycle, to run and most of all; to ski. He explored mountains and double black diamond trails in New England, then out West, then Europe, South America and New Zealand, and tried helicopter skiing in Canada as well.

He took great pride in his ski legacy; that two of his three children are ski instructors and that his two grandsons are ski racers.

Retirement was a gift to him to be able to move closer to the mountains. Ernie lived and raised his family in Norwalk and Westport from 1969 to 2004 and with retirement chose Vail, Colorado and in more recent years Santa Fe, New Mexico.

His hobbies were dogs, cars and cosmology. He loved all dogs and loved to walk his dogs at the dog park and meet up with other friends and canines there.

He always had a fascination with automobiles and loved show cars and won a national trophy for his showpiece 1964 Bentley S3. He was still debating cosmology and the nature of the universe as he entered the hospital for the last time.

He was born in New York City in 1935 and raised in Springfield Gardens, Queens, New York. His late parents were Eugene and Mary Klein Atlas.

As a child of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, he learned early on that education was essential to succeed in America. He was a very proud graduate of P.S. 132, Stuyvesant High School (1953), Columbia College and the Albert Einstein Medical College (1961).

At Columbia College he was an AEPi brother and loved the liberal arts education he received and remained a lifelong reader and philosopher. In medical school he was invited to join Alpha Omega Alpha, the medical honor society. His residency was at the University of Washington where he specialized in infectious diseases.

He was fortunate to earn a NROTC scholarship to defray his college and medical school expenses. During his undergraduate summers he traveled to Europe, and one summer he had the honor to serve on the battleship SS Missouri. After medical school as a doctor in the U.S. Navy, he rose to the rank of lieutenant commander.

Ernest Atlas married Barbara Frank in 1957, and had three children with Barbara, when that marriage was dissolved by divorce in 1995. Ernie went on the marry Bonnie Reed Hyland in 1998, and would have celebrated his 20th anniversary with Bonnie this June.

He is survived by his second wife, Bonnie Atlas and his stepdaughter Erin Beck, his children David (Jacqueline) Atlas, JenniferAtlas (John Coppola) of Manchester, Vermont, and Ian Atlas (Renu Karir) of San Francisco, and grandchildren Hayley, Emma and Charlotte Atlas and Joshua and Noah Coppola.

The funeral was held March 12 at Santa Fe National Cemetery. It was a moving tribute with a military ceremony replete with a bugler who played taps and sailors from the U.S. Navy were on hand to perform a flag ceremony. It concluded with a Jewish graveside ceremony.

In attendance with family and friends was Ernie’s best friend of 75 years, Roger Blahoe. He was interred in a grave overlooking the snow-covered trails of his beloved Ski Santa Fe Mountain.

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