Wayne State University

MAY 16, 1995

Thank you President Adamany, Dean Hough and Distinguished Guests. I am truly honored to be here tonight. Jack Benny once remarked upon accepting an award, — “I really don’t deserve this. But I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either!” Mr. Benny was a wise man. He realized that anyone that receives an award does so because of the many people and events that have shaped their lives. I realize how fortunate I have been and wish to share with you the people and events that form my life’s tapestry. It is fabric woven right here in Detroit and has four main threads.

The “Law of Karma” certainly has been evident in my life. Not only was I born in Detroit, I was born at Henry Ford Hospital. I was a month premature and like many premature infants my lungs were weak and not fully developed. I probably had what is known today as hyaline membrane disease. I was so ill that I almost died several times within the first year of my life and my parents were told not to expect me to live past the age of 3. Even then Henry Ford Hospital was on the cutting edge of the newest techniques and saved my life with the new inventions of the time — oxygen tents and penicillin. I am sure that those early years profoundly affected me because I always, always wanted to be a nurse.

The influence of Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) continues today in my professional life. In this time of Generation X and the disenfranchisement that exists in many organizations, it is a privilege to work for an organization that is making a difference in Detroit as well as the Nation. Unlike other health care institutions, HFHS never abandoned this City. The System continues to be committed to improving the health status of its patients and the community as well as the economic health of Detroit. But, HFHS is also one of the leaders in continuous quality improvement and health care reform in this country. Others come from all over the United States and foreign nations to study what we have done.

At HFHS, I work with wonderful staff and colleagues that are talented, creative, and committed. I report to leaders that I respect and admire. The papers are full of Wall Street scandals and questionable ethical practices by corporate leaders. However, I have watched Gail Warden, Peter Butler, and Steve Velick over the last eight years. I have seen each during times of crisis make decisions based on integrity and what was right rather than what was expedient. The longer I have been an executive, the more rare I realize this is.

The second thread to my life’s tapestry is Nursing. Each of you in this audience will be touched by a nurse sometime in your life. Nursing is one of the few professions in which you can use your head, your heart, and your hands. It is such a privilege to be part of people’s lives when they are the most vulnerable — But, you grow up fast when you are a nurse. You celebrate life, help others to become independent, and participate in the last great event of an individual’s life – – their dying.

I remember Judy. I remember her eyes round and starring at me watching my every move. Her fear was palpable. Judy’s mind was a prisoner in her own body. She had Gillian-Barre syndrome. This is a viral disease that causes progressive paralysis — starting at the toes and gradually working its way up the body until every muscle is paralyzed except the eyes. It was my job to keep her alive long enough for the virus to run its course and for her function to return. It was my job to understand the pathophysiology of her illness and scientific basis for her treatment. It was my job to breathe for Judy by monitoring her on the ventilator and keeping her airway clear, to assure that Judy had the nutrition her body needed through intravenous hyperalimentation because Judy could not eat, to prevent Judy’s skin from breaking down and keeping her muscles toned and joints mobile so that she could walk again. It was my job to deal with Judy’s fear through talking and touch so that she could feel
safe and comforted. It was my job to support Judy’s husband who was dealing with a critically ill wife and two small children at home. And — it was my JOY to see Judy walk out of the Hospital with her husband and two small children.

This and countless other experiences like them have profoundly changed me. This is what Nursing and health care are all about. These provide my foundation and remind me of what is truly important in my executive role as I make decisions and deal with issues of health policy

Which leads me to the third major thread of my tapestry — Wayne State University College of Nursing. I came to Wayne already a registered nurse. I knew that I was a good nurse and did not expect to learn much. As a matter of fact, I thought I was pretty hot! I was really only interested in that “sheep’s skin” so that I could professionally advance and thought that I would just be going through the motions. How smug I was!

Well, guess what? Instead, the College of Nursing exposed me to some of the best minds in Nursing in the country. My vision of Nursing and health care was expanded beyond taking care of individual patients and families to considering the health of groups and communities. I learned about becoming a nurse practitioner as well as theories and practices of health promotion and health prevention — and this was in the 1970’s — things that are just starting to come into vogue in health care today. Wayne taught me to critically think! I hated all the papers! — But I am eternally grateful because I learned how to research an issue, do my own analysis, and present my conclusions in a clear and concise manner. I use those disciplines every day.

The last thread in my life’s tapestry is LOVE. I have been fortunate to have two parents that loved me. The older I get, the more uncommon I realize this is. Both my mother and father represent what this great City of Detroit stands for. They are self-made people that struggled from difficult roots to become successes in their own rights.

My father, placed in an orphanage at five years old, with little formal schooling, and being primarily self taught — was able to take advantage of the GI Bill after the war. At forty and with four children, he tested out of high school and two years of college. He took his course work here at Wayne and went on to become a civil engineer and Assistant Superintendent of the Department of Public Works for the City.

My mother was a secretary for the Detroit Public Schools. I was the only kid on the block to have a mother who was a Republican, labor leader, secretary, mother! She along with other colleagues organized the school secretaries into their own independent bargaining unit. I was also the only kid on the block whose mother successfully fended off a takeover bid by the Teamsters.

Mom, you and Dad gave me love and the love of learning. You taught me how to take risks and be committed to something that was greater than myself. You taught me that I could do anything I wanted as long as I was willing to work for it. — And you taught me that if I was going to walk out on thin ice, I might as well dance! You gave me a wonderful sister and two great brothers — each so different but each with the tenacity, commitment to a higher purpose, and the love of life that you and Dad had. I wish Dad could be here tonight so that I could thank him.

Finally, the strongest thread of all in my tapestry is for my husband, Bob. Bob, you are my best friend. You brought with you a warm and loving extended family and gave me three beautiful children. But the special gift you gave me is the gift or yourself. It is such a joy to be married to a strong man that is not threatened by a strong woman! You have supported me unconditionally, providing me with wise counsel and honest, constructive criticism. Bob you are the love of my life — in this life and the next — and the wind beneath my wings.

The words of Rhienhold Neibur summarize my life’s tapestry the best. He states:

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime: therefore we must be saved by hope.

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history: therefore we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone, therefore we are saved by love.”

I humbly accept this award with all the faith, hope and love given to me by so many. Thank you.