Lives They Lived: Friends, family remember former Mayo CEO
Those familiar with Dr. W. Gene Mayberry, knew him as a true gentleman.
As CEO and president of Mayo Clinic from 1976 to 1987, he contributed much to the expansion of the clinic's health system into different parts of the country.
Mayberry also had a heart for his patients. He was a 1953 graduate of the University of Tennessee and a veteran who served two years in the Navy before his post-graduate work in endocrinology.
He continued his studies at Mayo Graduate School of Medicine, the University of Minnesota, New England Center Hospital and the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases. His focus was thyroid function.
Mayberry, 87, died Sunday. He was preceded in death by his wife, Jane, and his brother, Thomas. He is survived by his son, Paul, of Atlanta, his daughter, Ann Mayberry, of Chicago and six grandchildren.
Paul Mayberry, 50, recalled his own childhood days when he worked on train sets with his father. Among the special times for the father-son duo were doing yard work and mini projects around the house.
"He was honest to a fault, and had a great work ethic," the former CEO's son said. "He cared for himself very well. He always was positive for me and others around. He was a dedicated doctor."
Mostly, Paul Mayberry saw his father as a man who pursued life with everything it had to offer. Aside from the white coat and the prestigious titles, his father loved the outdoors and was an avid golfer. He was also a "sharp dresser."
The doctor also had a fondness for watches. As a boy, he had a pony named Peter Pan, which won him first place and $2 at the county fair — even though he was the only entrant in the contest — and bought his first watch with that money.
"He had a warm personality and he was very hard working and intense," Paul Mayberry said. "When it was time to be home, it was fun."
Gene Mayberry joined the Mayo Clinic staff in 1960 as a consultant in medicine and spent the majority of his 36-year professional career at Mayo. He served as chairman of the Department of Laboratory Medicine from 1970 to 1975. He was also a professor of laboratory medicine and professor of medicine at Mayo Medical School.
Mayberry eventually led Mayo to establish sites in Jacksonville, Fla. and Scottsdale, Ariz. and integrated Mayo Clinic with Saint Marys and Rochester Methodist hospitals.
He championed early efforts in diversity and created diversification activities to help support the hospital's mission for clinical practice, education and research, according to a Mayo Clinic statement.
President Ronald Reagan appointed Mayberry to head the presidential advisory commission on the AIDS epidemic in 1987. Throughout the years, Mayberry also served on many different civic boards and was a member of several different medical and administrative professional associations.
Colleagues and friend Dr. Don Schultz remembered Mayberry as a man who loved his patients more than any other aspect of the field.
"He was absolutely a superb gentleman," Schultz said. "He had a memory for faces and names. How he did it, I'll never know. Even though he was a CEO and worked mostly administration, he loved getting to see patients and meeting them through the thyroid clinic. It was a great love of his."
His humility often masked the significant contributions the man made to Mayo Clinic in helping bring Saint Marys together.
"He would never have admitted that he played a key role in getting that put together," Schultz added.
When asked if his character showed how personable the man was, Schultz agreed.
"Extremely so," he said. "That's just Gene. That's the kind of person he was. No question about it. It was beautiful seeing him work with the patients."
During the final years of his life, Mayberry lived at the Charter House retirement home in Rochester. There, he and Schultz spent many days chatting and enjoying walks down memory lane. So much so, the other emeritus colleagues formed "the Romeos" and held Saturday night dinners.
The last encounter with Mayberry that Schultz remembers was a simple, positive conversation.
"I went down to the east room looking out through the window at the Methodist Hospital," he said. "He loved the place, the people and the community. … He was a humble person, and how much he accomplished, he acted like it never happened. He kept saying how fortunate he was to be part of this magnificent institution."
When thinking of Mayberry, Schultz will remember him as a person who worked hard to accomplish so much.
"It was my pleasure and privilege that he wanted to associate with me at our years at Mayo," Schultz said. "A real gem. Truly, he was."