Thursday, June 25, 2009

In memoriam: Don Lowry

Robert D. "Don" Lowry, former CEO of the New England Deaconess Hospital, passed away peacefully at his home in Chelsea late Monday, June 22, at the age of 95. Don Lowry made innumerable contributions to this hospital, but I will miss him most for his quiet and calm demeanor, and his kind generosity of spirit. What follows are excerpts of our notice to staff this week.

Don was employed at the Deaconess for 30 years. He became its Chief Executive Officer in 1954, a position he held until his retirement in 1976. He remained on the Board of Directors for several years thereafter, and when the hospital later merged to become Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, he was named a Trustee for Life.

The Lowry Medical Office Building at 110 Francis St., was named to honor Don’s many accomplishments during his tenure at the hospital. He was beloved by his employees for his humility, his friendliness and his willingness to pitch in and do whatever he asked of others. An enthusiastic supporter of nursing education, he was admired and highly respected by the nursing staff, the physicians, and the trustees, many of whom became close friends. Under his popular leadership, the Deaconess grew from 298 beds to a 482-bed specialty referral hospital known throughout the world for the treatment of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

"Don had the reputation of being a great builder – but being a builder of buildings was not what made him a great leader,” notes his friend and former colleague Joanne Casella, Chief Administrative Officer, Department of Medicine. “It was that he was a builder of trust."

Don had extraordinary warmth and empathy for people of all ages and positions, and he made everyone comfortable in his presence. Many friends and employees were drawn to share their problems with him because, even if he were unable to find a solution, he would leave them feeling comforted, respected, and less lonely and discordant. He loved the people he worked with. As one trustee said at his retirement dinner, "Don's talent has been to bring people around to his way of thinking. He never argued. But soon I'd find myself doing what he wanted me to do...and happy to do it...and thinking it was all my own idea."

Don was born and raised on a farm in Doniphan, NE, a town of about 300. His father later became a grocery store owner and Postmaster. His mother had been a school teacher. After graduating from Doniphan High School, Don worked for several months in a commercial photography studio in Hastings, Nebraska, before moving to California in 1931 where he attended Sacramento College.

In March of 1941 he was drafted into the U.S Army and, when World War II was declared in December of that year, his nine-month stint was extended to five years. In the Army, he helped to set up an X-ray department and trained X-ray technicians at the Station Hospital in San Luis Obispo, Calif. He was commissioned in the Medical Administrative Corps in 1942 and, as a Captain, served as adjutant to the 102nd Station Hospital in Australia as well as in New Guinea, the Netherlands East Indies, and the Philippines, eventually leading to his life's work in hospital administration.

Photography remained Don’s avocation for many years. And, his other great joy in his "off" time from the Deaconess was his 34-foot cabin cruiser, "The Sequester," on which he spent many happy hours entertaining family and friends during the summer months, often serving them a unique sandwich he called the "Sequester Special."

While leading the Deaconess Hospital, Don served terms as President of the Massachusetts Hospital Association and President of the New England Hospital Superintendent's Club. He was an active member of the New England Hospital Assembly, the National League for Nursing, and numerous other hospital-related groups, and remained a Life Diplomate of the American College of Healthcare Executives. Upon his retirement from the Deaconess, he was honored by a vote of the physicians to be named an Honorary Member of the Medical Staff.

Don also was a board member of the Morgan Memorial and in the 1950s a founding member and senior warden of St. John's Episcopal Church in Westwood, and head of its Building Committee. For several years in the late-1970s and early-1980s, he served on the governing board of the Old North Church in Boston where he was a lifelong member of the congregation.

He leaves his wife of 30 years, Eleanor (Clapp) Lowry (a longtime Volunteer Surgical Liaison), family and many friends.


Lachlan Forrow, MD, FACP said...

Thanks, Paul. When I was younger, I thought the future was what mattered, not the past. As I've gotten older, thanks to people like Ruth Freiman, BIDMC archivist, I am becoming increasingly obsessed with history, finding so much wisdom there. It's not so much the oft-quoted Santayana idea that "Those
who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." It's more Isaac Newton's view that "If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants." Don Lowry sounds like he's clearly one of our Beth Israel Deaconess "giants", and your post makes me hungry to learn more about him, the struggles he faced, how he dealt with them, and through understanding that maybe being able to add his shoulders to the ones I try to help us stand on, and be worthy of him when we say we are carrying on his legacy. (And in my/our own narcissistic ways, maybe if we manage to be worthy of being part of Don's legacy, one day people will think not just of his, but of how you and I built on it.)


Lachlan Forrow, MD
Director, BIDMC Ethics Programs

Ray Brown Scholar said...

Sounds like we just lost a true healthcare hero. In an industry where CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CNOs and CIOs seemed these days to be focused on "no money, no mission", the passing of Don Lowry should remind us that healthcare is a business that is powered by the hard work and dedication of "people".