News comes today of the death of the multitalented Dr. Richard Portis, a newspaper man who turned to medicine but kept his way with words.

Here’s the obituary.


Richard Palmer Portis M.D., of Little Rock, died March 31, 2024, at age 79. A 1974 graduate of the University of Arkansas School of Medicine, he had practiced family medicine at Prescott, Hope and Texarkana and later had a full-time emergency medicine practice.

Portis was medical director at Southwest Regional Medical Center in Little Rock until it closed in 2008 and had been a member of the Southern Medical Association and the Arkansas Medical Society. He retired in 2013 after sustaining a series of strokes.

In the 1980s Portis was appointed by Gov. Bill Clinton to the Board of Directors of the Arkansas Endowment for the Humanities and to the Governor’s Advisory Council for Gifted and Talented Education.

Before entering medical school he had been an editor and reporter at the Crossett News Observer, the Pine Bluff Commercial and the Arkansas Gazette and had served as an information officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. He was a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas and Hamburg High School, where he was valedictorian. In high school he was named to the Arkansas All State Band for four consecutive years and was first-chair All State Band trombonist in his junior and senior years.

Portis was born July 13, 1944, at Camden. He and his family lived at Mount Holly until moving to Hamburg in 1948. He was preceded in death by his parents, Samuel Palmer Portis and Alice Waddell Portis, his sister, Aliece Portis Sawyer, and a brother, Charles Portis.

He is survived by his wife, Leah Portis, daughters Dr. Susan Portis Ferguson and Jane Portis, son Charles J. Portis, two stepsons, Cameron (Samantha) Aviles and Palmer Aviles, grandchildren Laura Davis, Walter Ferguson, Cora Ferguson and Beckett Samuel Aviles, and a brother, Jonathan W. Portis.

He was a lifelong Presbyterian and a member of the Second Presbyterian Church of Little Rock.

Journalist Ernie Dumas had more to say about Richard Portis, whose sense of humor rivaled or topped that of his famously hilarious brother Charles, aka “Buddy”, Dumas said:

I would add that he was a great editor and writer and wrote stuff a lot funnier than Buddy ever wrote, including a letter on his doctor’s office stationery at Prescott to the Columbia University graduate school of film in January 1992 recommending that they admit my son Chris, “who at the age of three had figured out the cure for viral illnesses in poultry and began his famous hubcap collection.” … “At the age of 13, Chris anticipated the famed Japanese film director Kuroso Dai’s sardonic reptile movies as metaphor for the silliness of Western culture.”

It got much funnier and ended: “He needs to be in a place like Columbia. His father wants him to go into mobile home sales. He gets his important genes from his mother.” Many years later, Chris began to forgive him. He was admitted at Columbia and got an MFA with honors.

On the Gazette’s copy desk, Richard Portis wrote hilarious letters to other newspapers pleading that they hire me because the Gazette was fed up and about to let me go.

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