Anyone who has ever spoken to Teddy Atlas knows he’s a man of many words, but it’s the things he doesn’t say that may count the most. Like the fact that he’s humble – almost painfully so. Or how much he truly likes helping people, especially children. And even at the age of 49, with everything he’s achieved in his life, how he’d give anything to have his father around to see the man that he’s become.
“I wish I could have had my father around to see all these things and I wish there were things I hadn’t done … I wish I could have had more time with my father, where he could share these things with me,” Atlas said.
Although Dr. Theodore Atlas isn’t alive to see his son’s many successes, the rest of Staten Island can surely attest to them, which is why Theodore Atlas Jr. is the most recent recipient of the Louis R. Miller Business Leadership Award in the not-for-profit category.
HONORED DAD’S LEGACY
Theodore Atlas Jr., affectionately known as Teddy, started the Dr. Theodore Atlas Foundation to honor his father’s humanitarian legacy. This year will mark the organization’s 10th anniversary.
The group’s major fund-raiser, the Teddy Dinner, is scheduled for Nov. 16 at the Hilton Garden Inn, Bloomfield. Information about the event, which annually draws major names from the world of sports and this year will honor former Staten Island D.A. William Murphy, can be obtained by calling 1-888-505-7070.
The Dr. Theodore Atlas Foundation is based on Staten Island, but it doesn’t have an official address – nor does it have a headquarters or even a base of operations. While Atlas would love to have an official home base, that seems to matter less in comparison to fulfilling the organization’s mission.
“We are here to help people who come to us so they won’t lose more than they’ve lost already,” he said. “They won’t lose their pride or their dignity and we will see them through and get them help.
“We fill the void and the need of regular, everyday people – people who fall through the cracks and have nowhere to go.”
The void is a big one: Helping single mothers with children who need their rent paid or else they’ll be evicted from their apartments; acquiring wheelchairs for children with muscular dystrophy; getting assistance for children with cancer; helping families burned out of their homes; purchasing clothing for needy kids; or raising more than $270,000 for the relatives of World Trade Center attack victims.
One of the group’s latest ventures: A food pantry at St. Michael’s parish in Mariners Harbor. “A lot of kids are not eating and going to bed hungry at night, so I opened up a food pantry (to help),” Atlas said.
Atlas has a committee of 12 volunteers who help him, but he is quick to note it is the kindness of Staten Islanders that makes everything happen.
When people give him applause, he tells them: “Don’t thank me, thank the people from Staten Island that are helping you. I represent thousands of people that just want to be with you and want in their own way to help.”
Over the years, the organization has given away more than $2 million. Currently, the foundation relies on donations as well as proceeds from two annual fund-raisers. After that, the foundation relies on the generosity of Staten Islanders.
Atlas admits that heading the foundation can be daunting. “I get scared. The demand is growing and we don’t have huge corporate sponsorship,” Atlas admitted. “I get nervous because the demand is growing all the time … we handle them the best we can.”
Atlas’ giving nature comes from his father. As a founder of the former Doctors’ Hospital, Concord, Dr. Atlas was a true humanitarian, making house calls into the early morning hours, charging patients as little as $5 per visit and giving out free medication. He made house calls until he was 80.
IDOLIZED HIS FATHER
“I idolized my father,” Atlas said, remembering how he went on many a late-night house call with his dad and spent hours hanging around his father’s office.
But the many hours Dr. Atlas spent caring for patients became many hours he spent away from his son. Starved for attention, the younger Atlas took a wrong turn: He began roaming the streets, getting in trouble and hanging out with the wrong crowd.
“I thought I was being righteous because in my mind I wasn’t doing that to be a criminal, I was doing that to get my father’s attention.”
But the plan backfired.
“I got myself in trouble. I hurt myself,” he said. Atlas spent time in jail, “mostly for fighting in the streets and getting involved with guns. I don’t condone it and I’m not proud of it.”
As a way to turn his life around, he used his boxing skills to get out of trouble. His became a Golden Gloves champion, but had to quit fighting due to scoliosis, a spinal disorder.
Instead, he became a trainer, working under legendary trainer Cus D’Amato in upstate New York. For a time, Atlas trained heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.
He went on to train other champions, including Barry McGuigan and Michael Moorer.
The new Teddy Atlas is a far cry from the young punk running the streets. He is the lead boxing analyst on ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights,” a job he’s held for the past eight years. He also hosts the channel’s “Wednesday Night Fights.”
Atlas also provided boxing commentary for the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympic Games and will lend his expertise at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.
His father never got to share in his many successes; Dr. Atlas died in 1993 at the age 88. But it doesn’t mean his father wasn’t aware.
Atlas recalls that one night, a bus driver who was a patient of his dad’s recognized him and stopped to talk. He told Atlas how during an appointment, Dr. Atlas spent 40 minutes talking about how proud he was of his son.
VOICED HIS PRIDE
“My father was so absorbed (in his work) that it took someone else to tell me, ‘You know what? Your father was proud of you. He saw you doing good and was proud of what you are doing,'” Atlas said.
Atlas is a native Islander who grew up on Grymes Hill. He and his wife Elaine live on Todt Hill and have two children.
He met Elaine while he was training young boxers in the Catskills. He brought a team of 25 kids to the pizzeria where she was working.
“She asked ‘Do you have kids?’ and I said ‘Yes. These are all my kids.’ She saw the way I was sitting with them and I was like a father with them.”
And she was hooked on Teddy Atlas … much like the rest of the Staten Island community.
CAP: ATLAS: “We are here to help people who come to us so they won’t lose more than they’ve lost already.”
CRED: Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hammel