Christopher G. Dawes, former CEO of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, died on Saturday as a result of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 68 years old.
Dawes stepped down from his post as president and CEO of the hospital in March 2018 to focus on his health. "I am particularly proud of the excellent clinical services we have created, several of which are nationally ranked, the investments we have made in the Children's Health Research Institute (CHRI), the network we have created to provide more access to the care we provide and, of course, our new 'main' building," he said at the time, in an open letter shared on LinkedIn.
According to his biography on the hospital website, Dawes was instrumental during its developmental years, building it into the nationally renowned medical institution it is today.
"We went from being a very lovely community hospital, nicely designed and family-friendly, to a world-class children's hospital drawing patients from across the United States and around the world," said Susan Packard Orr, a longtime member of the hospital's board of directors, and daughter of its founder, Lucile Packard.
Some of Dawes' contributions as CEO include directing a $500 million program to build centers of excellence in various medical specialties, including heart and cancer care; brain and behavior; and pulmonary disease. He also developed a network of care for children and mothers, and oversaw the hospital's expansion into a state-of-the-art 361-bed facility in Palo Alto, which opened in 2017.
Born in Great Britain, he and his family moved to California when he was a child. His first career dream was to become a commercial airline pilot, according to his biography. However, he launched his career in hospital administration after earning a bachelor's degree in public administration from San Diego State University in 1974. A decade later, he received a master's degree in business administration from McLaren School of Business at the University of San Francisco.
He took on the role of chief operating officer at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford in 1995 after spending 10 years working in senior administrative positions at Pacific Presbyterian Medical Center in San Francisco (which later became the California Pacific Medical Center), Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose and Stanford Health Care. He moved up the ladder, becoming CEO in 1997 upon proving himself a strong leader during the failed merger attempt between Stanford Health Care and University of California, San Francisco.
"I wasn't sure about becoming a CEO, in part because there's a lot of politics, a lot of diplomacy and I was more interested in day-to-day operations," he said in a 2017 interview with the Silicon Valley Business Journal. "I learned fairly quickly that as a CEO, you're not there to problem-solve. You are there to help coach and guide people so that they will make the right decisions appropriately. My job is to provide the vision, hire good people, set the direction and let them do the problem solving."
His former colleagues hold fond memories of him. "Beyond his effective leadership, what I will remember most about Chris are his kindness and dedication to the mission of helping children in need," said Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. "He leaves behind a significant legacy at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, having taken the institution to a new level. He truly created the children's hospital of the future."
Lloyd Minor, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine, shared similar sentiments. "Chris was a tireless advocate for children's health. Through his passion and dedication, he helped bring extraordinary advances in clinical services to our young patients," Minor said. "An exceptional colleague and leader, he will be greatly missed by the entire Stanford Medicine community."
Dawes is survived by his wife, Elizabeth "Beth" Dawes of Los Altos; his children, Scott Dawes of San Jose (Brittney), Matthew Dawes of San Francisco and Sara Dawes Hughes of Spokane, Washington, (Caleb); and two great-nephews. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health.