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Bill Kirby Jr.: Retired doctors honored with Distinguished Citizen award


Dr. Rakesh Gupta and his wife, Dr. Vinita Gupta, have called Fayetteville home for more than three decades.

They don’t just live here.

They embrace this community.

“Fortunately, for both of us, we have made many friends here, both within the Asian Indian community and the larger Fayetteville community,” Rakesh Gupta says. “This includes personal and professional colleagues at the hospital and elsewhere. Without their support and daily inspiration, none of our success would be possible.”

Their humility exceeds the bounds of geography.

Rakesh Gupta, 67, is a retired gastroenterologist. Vinita Gupta, 66, is a retired pediatrician. Together, they make a difference in this community. When there is a community call, whether education, cultural or medical, they quietly are there, just because of who Rakesh and Vinita Gupta are in life.

“The Guptas don’t see how we are all different,” Mary Holmes, president and chief executive officer of the Cumberland Community Foundation, said on Aug. 18, when the Guptas were honored at the Cumberland County Boy Scouts of America Occoneechee Council’s annual Distinguished Citizen Award Dinner at Highland Country Club. “They see how we are all the same. Rakesh and Vinita have a way of making everyone feel like we are part of the same world, the same community, the same dreams.”

Mary Holmes said it well.

Health care a calling

Rakesh and Vinita Gupta met while both were in medical school in Belgaum, India. After they married, they moved to New York City, where Rakesh Gupta completed his residency at Lincoln Medical Center in 1985 and his gastroenterology fellowship in 1987 at State University of New York-Brooklyn College of Medicine.

Vinita Rakesh did her residency requirements in pediatrics at Lincoln Medical Center. She joined the Army and in 1989 was assigned to Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg. Rakesh Gupta followed his wife to Fayetteville in 1990, joining Dr. Wes Jones in private practice at what today is the Cape Fear Center for Digestive Diseases.

After her active duty, Vinita Gupta joined the pediatric practice of Dr. James Hall and Dr. John Gimesh before returning to Womack Army Medical Center as a civil service pediatrician until her retirement in 2021. Rakesh Gupta retired in 2020, although he continues to serve military veterans at Veteran Affairs medical centers in Fayetteville.

Health care may have been the couple’s professional calling. She spent 33 years as a compassionate pediatrician for active-duty military parents and their children. Aside from private practice, Rakesh Gupta was part of the Cape Fear Valley Health System staff, serving from 1996-1998 as chief of medicine and chief of the medical staff. He later served as a member of the health system board of trustees.

“I am not sure how many people know this, but Rakesh as the chairperson of the board of Cape Fear Valley was responsible for my family and I coming to Fayetteville,” Mike Nagowski, CEO of Cape Fear Valley Health, told the Boy Scout audience. “He passionately sold me on the opportunity and the community. Rakesh and Vinita have been incredibly good to my family and I as we transitioned to Fayetteville almost 15 years ago.”

Nagowski said you will find Rakesh Gupta’s fingerprints everywhere at the health system from the Heart & Cardiovascular Center to the Mother Baby program to the Medical Education Center and Neuroscience program to the largest expansion in Cape Fear Valley Health history.

“His leadership has continued with the health system,” Nagowski said. “He currently serves on the Cape Fear Valley Health Foundation and brings not only clinical viewpoints but unique community-minded perspectives.

“To know Rakesh means you understand he pushes. He pushes for excellence in patient care. Rakesh put me in a car and made me drive five hours to outside of Atlanta to tour physician fellowship programs and research efforts, and drive back to Fayetteville for evening meetings all in the same day.

“He would routinely check in with me, come to my office to see how I was doing and offer advice,” Nagowski said. “He always put quality of care at the center of every conversation. Growth not simply for growth’s sake, but growth to better serve the community.”

‘Kindness, compassion, generosity’

Together, you will find the Guptas’ fingerprints on this community, including the Cumberland Community Foundation, the Cape Fear Botanical Garden, Methodist University, The Care Clinic, Better Health, the Child Advocacy Center and Cape Fear Regional Theatre.

And, of course, the Hindu Bhavan Temple on Cedar Creek Road.

“Vinita and I enjoy volunteering at our local Hindu Temple that we helped start in 2010,” Rakesh Gupta says. “Vinita continues to teach Sunday school at the Hindu Temple and is now learning the ancient Indian language – Sanskrit online. She loves to teach and play the Indian instrument harmonium along with Indian classical vocal music.”

Apples, all of us have heard, don’t fall far from the tree.

Son Ashish Gupta works with Epic Systems, a health firm in Verona, Wisconsin. Son Amit is a gastroenterologist and faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His wife, Priyanka, is a pediatrician on the UNC faculty. Ashish and Amit, you may wish to know, are former Eagles Scouts from Boy Scouts Troop 747 sponsored by St. James Lutheran Church.

Dave Runkle says Rakesh and Vinita Gupta were always there to support their sons’ Cub Scout and Boys Scout activities, she as a Webelo’s den mother and Rakesh Gupta as a volunteer who wasn’t afraid to splash tomato sauce all over his apron at a spaghetti fundraiser.

“Vinita and Rakesh have earned the respect of everyone in this community for their kindness, compassion, generosity and unselfish service to others,” Runkle, a former 747 scout leader, said. “They live their faith every day and honor their commitment to love and serve their neighbors in that process.”

Grateful to others

Rakesh and Vinita Gupta are unpretentious and grateful to call this community home.

“We have been also very fortunate to have mentors and guides in this journey,” Rakesh Gupta says. “Mary Lynn Bryan, who is gentle, persistent and relentless. Mrs. Lucy Jones, who is an incredible example and inspiration. Dr. Loleta Foster, Mrs. Mary Holmes and others including Mrs. Dot Wyatt and Mrs. Bo Thorp.

“They have all taught us how to connect with the community and work together for the greater good, and not just self-good. Our city has made significant progress in the last 25 years because of folks like them and others that have had a broader vision – Murray and Nancy Duggins, Linda and Ralph Huff, Menno Pennink and others. We are only trying to contribute in a small and hopefully meaningful manner.”

The Guptas say they are honored, grateful and humbled to receive the Cumberland County Boy Scouts of America Occoneechee Council’s annual Distinguished Citizen Award, and they will continue to work for the best of this community.

Together, they have made a difference in this city and county.

And we as a community, too often divided these days, can learn from their example of all of us embracing one another.


“We believe in the mosaic that makes our community – people of all colors and all walks of life that make us move forward together,” Rakesh Gupta says. “We very much want to keep this journey moving with the idea that tomorrow will be a little better than yesterday, as my friend Dr. Kama Bakri, would say. If we focus on ‘us and ours’ rather than ‘me and mine,’ our community, our city, our country and our planet” will be the better for it.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Column, Bill Kirby Jr., Dr. Rakesh Gupta, Dr. Vinita Gupta, Cumberland County Boy Scouts of America Occoneechee Council’s annual Distinguished Citizen Award