Issue 5 Stories

Life on the Board

Sheila Tate brings a unique perspective—and an impressive list of accomplishments—to her role as a member of the Martha Jefferson Foundation’s Board of Directors. In the 1980s, Tate served as press secretary to First Lady Nancy Reagan in the White House. She also co-founded Powell Tate, a prestigious Washington, D.C.-based public relations agency for leading political, government, corporate, nonprofit and healthcare clients. And today, she remains on a first-name basis with some of the most famous and powerful people in the country.

Her connection with the Foundation Board, however, is much more personal in nature. Since 2005, Tate has been married to John Youel, MD, a surgeon who worked at Sentara Martha Jefferson for 37 years before retiring. When she was asked to join the Board, it was her husband’s influence that helped her decide to bring her considerable talents to the table.

“John always spoke about the hospital in the most amazing way, and he still does to this day,” says Tate. “He just felt like working there was the most wonderful experience of his life.” His glowing descriptions also led Tate to choose Sentara Martha Jefferson for her healthcare needs after she became a full-time Charlottesville resident. This gave her another important perspective—that of a patient.

Over a four-year-period, Tate underwent three orthopedic surgeries at the hospital. Everyone was always so attentive to her needs, but Tate was still amazed the day she was wheeled into the operating room and heard a friendly voice call out to her: “Hey, I remember you!” It was the anesthesiologist, who had participated in another of her surgeries 18 months prior, and she was soon chatting with Tate like a long-lost friend.

“In how many hospitals does that happen?” Tate asks. “It really just goes to the culture of the hospital and the people there, who are so incredibly personal and caring. I couldn’t be happier with the quality of care I’ve received, and for that reason, I am always telling new residents about Sentara Martha Jefferson. I just feel like it’s this crown jewel that we’re so lucky to have here.”

It is this perspective that makes Tate such an enthusiastic, grateful and effective member of the Foundation Board, which she joined in 2010.

Being part of the Board is a pleasure, she says, because the 23-member group is so incredibly focused on its mission. She attributes that focus to strong leadership, a diverse makeup of members with complementary strengths and viewpoints, and a shared understanding of the Board’s mission.

“We are constantly being educated and re-educated on exactly where things stand with the needs of the hospital, and how we can help,” Tate says. “And there are no limits to the kinds of suggestions you can make or the creative ideas you can bring forward. Everyone is very open, very supportive and very committed.”

The primary role of the Foundation Board is to help raise funds and steward philanthropic gifts received from the community for those important, extra aspects of care at Sentara Martha Jefferson that can make huge differences in health outcomes and patient satisfaction. The Foundation Board, however, always takes its cues from the hospital’s leadership, which determines the primary areas where funding and attention will be of greatest benefit. “The leadership might present five philanthropic priorities for our consideration, and then after a lot of listening within the community and discussion, we will pick maybe three of them to be our top priorities,” Tate explains.

In the past, the Board has helped with the capital campaign to build the beautiful new hospital on the Peter Jefferson campus. Most recently, the focus has been on funding programs that directly enhance patient care and provide support for patients’ families: the Palliative Care Program, the Caring Tradition Fund and the Haden Nursing Institute, which provides funding for nursing education scholarship support, best-practice nursing research, clinical simulation training, advanced roles for nurses, and support for innovations in nursing practice at the bedside.

Moving forward, philanthropic priorities will include support for the High-Risk Breast Program, the Cancer Survivorship Program, the Family Caregiver Support Program, the Center for Clinical Education, and continued support for the Haden Nursing Institute and Palliative Care Program. “We will have our plates full, but we recognize that our community deserves these programs,” says Tate. “Through their generous donations, our community members have illustrated that they would like to receive their care from Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital.”

For Tate and her colleagues, Board participation is about a lot more than raising money and sharing ideas. To do their work effectively, Board members have to spend time in the community, seeking out and listening to the concerns of both residents and hospital staff members, understanding their needs, and helping to educate new residents and raise awareness of the hospital’s value to Charlottesville’s quality of life.

“There is nothing I do not love about being on this Board,” Tate says, though it’s hardly a surprise that she is most fond of the communications aspects of her role, whether it’s spending time with people at Foundation fundraising events like Martha’s Market, writing thank-you notes to donors, or learning more about the real-life impacts of hospital programs.

“Coming here late in life, I was particularly grateful to have found Charlottesville to be such a warm, welcoming place,” she says. “So it’s really meaningful to be able to make a solid contribution to this community and do my small part to help ensure that people have access to top-notch, highly personal medical care.”

Generosity and Grace

For the four years that Sheila Tate worked as Nancy Reagan’s press secretary, she enjoyed a cordial but highly professional relationship with her employer. “When I worked for her, I always called her Mrs. Reagan,” Tate recalls. “But on the day I left, she called me in and said: ‘Please call me Nancy.’ From then on, we were friends.”

Tate invites the world into that relationship and introduces them to the incredibly warm, caring and generous woman behind the public persona in her first book, “Lady in Red: An Intimate Portrait of Nancy Reagan,” which will be released by the Crown Publishing Group in April 2018.

“This is a woman who was more than 20 years older than I and who was known to everybody, and yet when my late husband died suddenly in 1998, she was right there offering me support, comfort and help,” Tate remembers. “And for several years afterwards, she called me every single week just to see how I was doing.”

And Tate returned the favor. She helped Mrs. Reagan make decisions on how best to protect Ronald Reagan and his dignity after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the early 1990s. She also assisted the Reagan family with managing the press after he passed away in 2004.

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