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 this magazine for 20 years, from 1989 to 2009, died March 11. Her husband, Michael, son, Andrew, and daughter-in-law, Michelle, were by her side. Her adored grandchildren — Grayson, 4, and Cameron, 2 — no doubt were prominent among her final earthly thoughts.

0417TRUgardnerk350jpgI was a colleague of Karen’s for the last decade of her tenure here. I’ve heard from many eager to share their love and memories. The first column Karen wrote for Trustee ran in the March 1995 issue, and what’s striking is how relevant it remains, especially in the context of population health and addressing the social issues that affect health. 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 grassroots citizens groups.”

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."

Michael and Karen met in the library of the University of Chicago and were married June 17, 1973. “It amused Karen that this was the first anniversary of the Watergate break-in,” Michael recalled in an email to me. 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 said.

To all who are working to advance American health care, Karen is an inspiration. She will be missed.