By Chuck Lauer
When I got the phone call I couldn’t believe it. Tim Stack, the CEO of Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta, had passed away early that day at age 60.
His illness came on quickly and took his life almost as quickly. Just like that, one of the leading lights of our industry was gone. I didn’t really get a chance to talk to him or even to tell him how much he meant to me. I wrote to him of my concern, but his family was guarded about his condition and didn’t want a lot of his many friends and colleagues calling.
If you didn’t know him, I can tell you that Tim Stack was one of the good guys. He was a throwback to the old days of keeping things simple and making sure he carried out his responsibilities on a day-to-day basis with enthusiasm and integrity. Most importantly, he made sure his people were always treated with dignity and respect in the workplace so they in turn would treat patients with the same caring attitude.
It was that kind of philosophy of leading that made him so successful. During his career he had been given all sorts of awards and was recently elected to the Board of Directors of the American Hospital Association, a distinction of which he was most proud. He was recognized as one of the top executives in the Atlanta business community.
You've probably never heard of Teton Valley Lodge and neither had I until I was invited to go fly-fishing with Tim Stack; Frank Perez, the just-retired CEO of the Kettering Health Network in Ohio; Steve Reynolds, the CEO of Baptist Memorial Healthcare in Memphis; Ken Hanover, CEO of Northeast Health System in Massachusetts; and our host, Gene Robinson, the CEO at Integrated Medical Systems in Birmingham, Ala. Steve Reynolds and Frank Perez were old hands at fly-fishing, while Tim Stack and I were total rookies, but willing to try our best to learn the ropes.
Both of us were assigned to the same boat with a guide who had his hands full teaching us how to throw a line into the water. When one of the trout bit on the hook we had to learn how to bring the fish to the boat, remove the hook and throw the fish back into the water. We learned quickly, though, and for the next two days we caught a lot of fish and, of course, made sure that we removed the hooks so when we threw the fish back into the water we didn't harm them too much.
Well when you are out for two days of fly-fishing on the Snake River in the backwoods of Idaho with just you, a partner and a guide, you get to know them pretty well. I had met Tim any number of times at various healthcare meetings and social gatherings, and I had always enjoyed our conversations. He had a great sense of humor about himself and he also had the presence of someone you could trust. So as we traveled down the Snake, we talked a lot between throwing our lines in the water.
We talked about our families and our careers and our disappointments and triumphs. We talked about the healthcare industry and how blessed we were to be part of it. We talked about friends who had passed away and about our love for this wonderful nation.
An incident occurred during the trip that will stay with me for the rest of my life. As both Tim and I were casting our lines I felt a sharp pain in my neck. Tim had hooked me. The guide didn't say a word, nor did Tim. I didn't know what to do, but the guide finally got the hook dislodged from my neck. That’s when the kidding started. I told Tim because of what had happened, my neck would never be the same again and I would always have a gash where his hook landed on me.
When we returned to the Teton Lodge other members of the group kidded poor Tim unmercifully. When I would call Tim thereafter, I would complain about how my neck was really not feeling right and how I was going to sue. We got a lot of laughs out of the whole episode.
Tim was not a complicated person. He spoke in a straightforward manner. He didn’t need to impress you. He looked you in the eye and said it like it was. He talked a lot about his people at Piedmont and how proud he was of them.
He said that without their dedication and loyalty he wouldn't have been able to do the things he accomplished there and that he owed them so much. And he talked about his family, his wife Mary and his children. He was loyal and dedicated to their well-being. Old-fashioned values, really, but the kind of stuff anyone can relate to.
So how do I say good-bye to someone with the character and qualities of Tim Stack? Maybe the best way would be to say: Tim, I love you very much my dear friend, and I will always cherish the little time we had together on this Earth. Someday in the future I look forward to saying hello and telling you how much you meant to me.
Take care, buddy, but be careful if the good Lord asks you to go fly-fishing!