[Harry E. Atkinson], who died Saturday at age 81, forged a name for himself in local politics. And the title the former Newport News mayor held longest (unofficial though it was) was the most local of all. Partly as a matter of his home geography, partly as recognition of his determined focus, and partly as a note of affection, Mr. Atkinson was known widely as the Mayor of Denbigh.
Though his track record of community involvement may call to mind the image of a placid man offering legal advice from behind a desk, those who worked with him know better. They recall Mr. Atkinson as a strong, almost intimidating, presence when he served two terms on the city council, first in the 1960s and then 1970s. He was the city's mayor from 1974 to 1976. Mr. Atkinson made things happen; he gave people a strong voice. Even those who didn't agree with his style still respected him for his strong convictions and integrity.
Perhaps his 22 years in the Marine Corps trained Mr. Atkinson to make a strong impression, to use his commanding voice, to cut right to the issue and to play hard. Truth is, once Mr. Atkinson took up a cause, he became its championing force, whether as a member of the council, as mayor of Newport News, or especially under that unofficial title that now must be retired in his honor. After Harry Atkinson, how could anyone else be Mayor of Denbigh?