The late James H. Shepherd, Jr. was the chairman of the Board of Directors, chief of staff and a co-founder of Shepherd Center. He co-founded Shepherd Center in 1975 with his parents, Alana Shepherd and the late Harold Shepherd, and David Apple, M.D., the hospital’s first medical director.
James and the co-founders built a facility that has garnered international recognition for the treatment of spinal cord injury, brain injury and multiple sclerosis. Also, Shepherd Center has also become a nationally recognized advocate for people with disabilities.
A native of Atlanta, James graduated from the Westminster Schools and then received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Georgia in 1973. It was his near-fatal bodysurfing accident in Brazil that year that led to the founding of Shepherd Center in 1975. After six months of intensive rehabilitation in Denver, Colorado, James regained the ability to walk with a cane and leg brace. When the Shepherd family returned home to Atlanta, they were frustrated with the lack of rehabilitation center options in the Southeast. With his parents’ enthusiastic support, James and his family founded Shepherd Center in 1975 as a six-bed unit, and almost immediately, there was a waiting list.
Throughout Shepherd Center’s history, James worked to improve accessibility and opportunity for people with disabilities. He regularly communicated with community leaders, legislators and the news media to increase public awareness. Additionally, he toured groups through Shepherd Center, spoke to community organizations, and made advocates and donors of the many people he reached.
On both the state and national level, James made a tremendous commitment and contribution to providing exceptional healthcare for people with spinal cord and/or brain injuries. He exemplified how dedication and determination can bring change to society. His contributions have been recognized with numerous awards, including a national award for distinguished public service from the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and an honorary doctorate from the University of Georgia – both of which also recognized his parents’ contributions.
James actively served on numerous boards and committees to further the education and research to benefit people with disabilities. He served as director of the National Rehabilitation Awareness Foundation, on the Board of Directors of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for Rehabilitation Technology, the Governor’s Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Trust Fund Authority and as a board member of Initiative 2000 (a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act). James also served on the Steering Committee for the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, which led the Interfaith Conference on Disability Awareness. He was an active volunteer in the community, having volunteered on the accessibility advisory committees of MARTA, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the Georgia World Congress Center and the Georgia Dome.