By Craig Beam
We recently lost a healthcare leader, advocate, and champion, Bernard Tyson, Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, who passed away on November 10. I have since spent time reflecting on the devoted healthcare professional I knew and was lucky enough to work with over the past few years with the American Heart Association, a group which Bernard held dear.
Bernard was a healthcare leader with so many admirable qualities—some of which I’d like to share as a tribute to the man whose hard work and dedication made a difference in so many ways to so many people here and around the world.
Bernard was passionate about improving healthcare. In fact, he believed the way to improve yourself is to improve the world— wisdom that came from Bernard’s father, a carpenter and part-time minister, which he often shared. Bernard was moved to get involved in healthcare after his mother’s hospitalizations for diabetes when he was young. His first job was at the hospital where she was treated. He later joined Kaiser in an entry-level position and eventually rose to become CEO. Throughout his career, he diligently strove to improve healthcare while also building his healthcare knowledge, expertise, and leadership—which, in turn, empowered him to continue improving healthcare as a healthcare leader. It was a virtuous cycle of passion and humility.
Bernard was committed to making a difference for others, motivated by his own personal experiences. In 2006, after suffering a heart attack and undergoing heart surgery, Bernard joined the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Heart Walk team. He soon became an avid supporter of the American Heart Association and joined the National Board of Directors in 2010. Bernard’s own experience raised his awareness of the importance of heart health and it became a cause in which he deeply believed. Through his involvement with the Heart Association, he was able to impact making a real difference for others, supporting advocacy, awareness, fundraising, research and more. It seems fitting that a healthcare leader with such a generous heart was committed to helping others protect their own.
Bernard was respected as a change leader—and change maker—on key healthcare issues. As a healthcare leader, Bernard kept pace with the pulse of healthcare trends and industry issues and, in many cases, helped blaze a trail for change. He became a passionate advocate for affordable, equitable healthcare coverage. He also became a spokesperson for the importance of mental health at Kaiser—and beyond. He truly was a champion for meaningful change, and even when those changes were controversial, he stayed the course and pursued what he believed was right.
Bernard was always ready to respond to calls for assistance. A respected helper and a doer, Bernard could always be counted on to lend his voice and support to healthcare causes in which he believed. I once asked him for help recruiting another healthcare CEO to chair the Bay Area Heart Association’s Ball, which I had not been able to do. With one call from Bernard, it was mission accomplished. Bernard’s deep knowledge, personal integrity, and vast network of connections often made helping look easy. Whether it was easy—or not—he always seemed genuinely happy to lend a hand, and was a healthcare leader who could drive results.
Bernard believed in paving the way for the next generation of healthcare leaders. Bernard generously gave time and advice to developing healthcare leaders coming up behind him. I once gave him a heads-up about a young executive who would be seeking Kaiser’s support for a new chapter of the National Association of Health Services Executives, another professional organization Bernard valued being part of during his lifetime. Bernard thoughtfully put this executive through the paces before offering his support—creating an invaluable first-hand learning experience for the up-and-coming healthcare leader. Through education and mentoring, helping with early-career development, and providing real-world experiences, Bernard helped shape the future of healthcare by supporting its next generation of leaders.
So many of Bernard’s contributions to healthcare will continue to have an impact, because he made a difference not only in the past and present, but the future as well. As a fellow healthcare leader, this is perhaps what I most admire about Bernard, his work, and his leadership—his deep and determined commitment to transforming the future healthcare for the benefit of us all.
Bernard’s family has created a fund in his name to commemorate his life and continue his impact. Donations in Bernard’s memory can be made to the Bernard J. Tyson Fund for Equitable Health and Well-Being that has been established by the American Heart Association to carry on his legacy. Contributions can be made online or by mail to: The Bernard J. Tyson Fund for Equitable Health and Well-Being, at the American Heart Association, c/o Maria Arnove, Office of the CEO, 7272 Greenville Ave., Dallas, TX 75230.