Karen Gardner was a classy person. I don’t use that term lightly. You can be smart. You can be talented. You can be highly accomplished in your career. But it takes a truly classy person to be all those things and face the world with Karen’s conspicuous sense of humor and compassion. To do so while bearing the relentless weight of a disease like multiple scleroris for more than four decades challenges comprehension.
Karen, who edited H&HN Daily’s sister publication, Trustee, for 20 years, from 1989 to 2009, died March 11. Her husband Michael, son Andrew, and daughter-in-law Michelle, were by her side. No doubt, her adored grandchildren Grayson, 4, and Cameron, 2, were prominent among her final earthly thoughts.
I was a colleague of Karen’s for the last decade of her tenure here. I admired her writing and editing skills, and her deep understanding of health care issues. The first column Karen wrote for Trustee ran in March 1995. Here’s an excerpt:
“Trustees need to look beyond their institutions. The community’s health, not the health of the hospital, is your primary mission. … But you can’t do it alone. A healthy community depends on a great deal more than the care provided inside a hospital. To truly make a difference to your community, you will need new partners — schools, social service agencies, political groups, public health agencies, employers and grass-roots citizens groups.”
What’s striking is how relevant Karen’s words remain today, especially as hospitals grapple with population health and how to join with other organizations to address the social issues that affect an individual’s and a community’s health.
Mary Grayson, former publisher and editor at Health Forum, told me that Karen believed deeply in the mission of Trustee magazine. “She understood the importance of the function of governance in hospitals and the profound effect it has on patient care and communities. She respected the men and women who served as trustees and worked with the goal of helping them effectively fulfill their role."
Growing up as Karen Segal in Haverhill, Mass., she was “always ready for an adventure,” her husband says. So when a college friend invited her to visit family in Chicago, Karen happily went along. She liked what she saw, enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Chicago and met Michael in the university library. They married on June 17, 1973. Karen had been diagnosed with MS the month before.
In retirement, the couple traveled as frequently as possible, especially to visit their son and his family in Colorado. “At home, she enjoyed dinners out, visiting with friends, and taking advantage of Chicago’s many cultural venues,” Michael says.
To all who are working to advance American health care, Karen is an inspiration. She will be missed.