Dr. Rolly Sullivan: Friends, colleagues from 8 states celebrate his career

MORGANTOWN — More than 150 people from eight states gathered at Lakeview Resort Friday evening to celebrate the 38-year career of Dr. Rolly Sullivan, former vice chair of behavioral medicine and psychiatry at WVU.

“His mark is on all of us,” said Dr. Jim Berry, who trained under Sullivan and now holds the positon of vice chair of the Department of Behavioral Health and director of addictions. “There’s probably no one in the state of West Virginia who has had a bigger impact on recognizing addiction as a disease, decreasing the stigma and supporting treatment than Rolly Sullivan.”

Dr. Clay Marsh and Dr. Rolly Sullivan

Sullivan’s wife, Dolly Sullivan, organized the evening. She emphasized that it was a career celebration, not a retirement party. He’d return to work now, if he could. But he suffered a massive stroke in October 2016 and is working on recuperating.

Two long lines of guests stood to greet Rolly as he arrived — accompanied by Dolly and daughter, Natalie Antonucci – and offer him hugs and handshakes.

Sullivan has been the leading addiction specialist in state for the last 20 years, Berry said. Berry was living in Michigan back in 2002 and looking for a place to do his residency. WVU and Sullivan were recommended.

“I would get really, really good training that I couldn’t get anywhere else.”

In 2004, Sullivan developed WVU’s Comprehensive Opioid Addiction Treatment program, COAT, which has become nationally known as the West Virginia model, Berry said. They’re now treating more than 600 patients.

“People from across the country come and see what we do and see if they can replicate that in other areas.” And Sullivan started good relationships with people from the state to expand addiction access and treatment across the state. He’s been a role model to medical students and residents.

Noting the backgrounds of all the guests — colleagues, state Bureau of Health officials, patients and doctors he’s trained, Berry said, “It’s just a testament to his reach and the impact he’s had on the lives of so many people.”

Sullivan is a West Virginia native, Dolly said, from Petersburg, Grant County. He went to WVU medical school and did his residency there.

Jim Stevenson, who chaired the Department of Psychiatry for 35 years, said, “We wouldn’t have what we have if it wasn’t for Rolly Sullivan.”

He started WVU’s first medical student experience in addiction treatment and worked with Stevenson to build the Chestnut Ridge program. “He developed such incredible addiction programs and concepts. … He’s a very, very close friend. He’s just a great guy.”

Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean for WVU Health Sciences, sat next to Sullivan at the dinner table and talked about Sullivan while he waited in the reception line to greet him.

Marsh trained at WVU and knew Rolly from his student days, he said, but got to know him better when he returned to take up his current position.

“Rolly had forever said, ‘This is a really important thing,’” Marsh said. “Nobody really realized it. Then all of a sudden, when the opioid issues kind of blew up nationally, Rolly was the centerpiece. He was not only a centerpiece here at WVU and in West Virginia. He was a centerpiece for the country.”

Marsh also got to know him personally. Rolly is very musical and Marsh has herd m play with some colleagues.

The cover of the program is a testament to that: It shows a younger Sullivan in jeans and port coat strumming a banjo.

Marsh said Sullivan also has a great sense of humor. “He always had an interesting way of understanding what was really important. His family and the people he helped were what energized him.”

Dolly opened the program with a few remarks before sending everyone to the buffet table.

“You all are our family,” she said. “We are just honored to have every one of you here.” Turning to Rolly, she said, “Honey, there are people here from eight states to be with you. Wow! Wow!”