A memorial service will be held this evening for Nancy L. Eleuterius, a former co-worker and friend who, at age 68, left this earth far too young. I first met Nancy more than 30 years ago at Riverside Hospital in Newport News, Virginia. She worked in patient registration and I had just come on board as assistant director of marketing. What I remember most about that meeting was her warm, wonderful welcome to a strange new city and introduction to the institution.
Shortly thereafter, Nancy left to take a job as director of administrative services for Norfolk General Hospital (now part of Sentara Healthcare in Virginia). I was sad to see her move on, but also joined the Norfolk General team later that same year and once again had the pleasure of working with Nancy. Hailing from Mississippi, she was the quintessential Southern lady; a steel magnolia with a big heart, quick wit, lots of smarts and true grit.
In the coming decades at Sentara, Nancy went on to become the director of operations for First Step, the first managed care contract in the nation for the Department of Defense. She was then promoted as the president of Sentara Mental Health Management and brought her very successful career to a close when she retired as president and CEO of Sentara Behavioral Health Services.
I have many wonderful memories of Nancy and hope you will indulge me in sharing a few of those with you today.
First, she was a champion of ‘patient experience’ before it became the trendy thing to do. Make that ‘customer’ experience – Nancy also believed that making it easy for doctors to schedule and admit patients would result in better business outcomes. We’re talking the early 1980s here – long before most hospitals understood or cared about the connection between service culture and financial performance. She alerted me – a very green marketer at the time – about a stream of patients being referred to our specialists by primary care docs in rural North Carolina. Told me about the number of calls coming in from people looking for doctors. Was concerned about patients and families trying to find someone to help them deal with the complexity and confusion of hospital stays.
In the earliest days of healthcare marketing, she was the catalyst for development of physician referral development, consumer call center and guest relations programs at Sentara.
Perhaps my favorite memory will be how the two of us conspired to keep a talented ‘temp’ worker in the health system. I first hired the temporary employee to help with the opening and marketing of a major facility expansion project. She was a fantastic find. When my funding ran out, Nancy and I arranged to have her work as a temporary employee in admissions, supporting a number of initiatives there. When her funding ran out, I had another new project that needed support. It took a couple of years, but we both knew great talent when we saw it and beat the ‘no new FTEs’ gridlock to bring her on in a permanent position. Today that person, Carol Via, is the vice president for corporate marketing at Sentara and remains one of the best marketing practitioners with whom I’ve had the privilege of working.
But Nancy wasn’t just about work. When I went into labor with my third child on the day before Thanksgiving, she showed up at our house to watch our toddler while my husband and I went to the hospital.
Over her lifetime, Nancy received numerous awards and recognitions for her accomplishments and contributions, served on boards and volunteered for community charities. What she was most proud of however, and held most precious, were her two daughters, Cindy and Deborah. She prayed daily for their health, safety and happiness.
A story that best characterizes Nancy goes like this. On a trip to New York City she decided to experience high tea at the Pierre Hotel. If you’ve ever done this, you know that it is a crowded happening (and if not, you must!). Nancy snagged a table with two seats in the Rotunda, ordered her tea and scones, and sat back to people watch. A tall, well-dressed gentleman asked if he could take the seat next to her, to which she agreed and for the next hour or so engaged in a conversation ranging from the weather to favorite restaurants to Broadway hits to world politics. When the gentleman rose to leave, he shook her hand and thanked her for one of the more pleasant afternoons he had experienced in some time. Immediately upon his departure, the wait staff clustered around her with questions. “Wow, do you know him? What was he like? Did you ask for his autograph?” Nancy, being Nancy, said “Know who?”
The answer was Michael Jordan. I still believe she had to look him up once she got home, but somewhere along the line learned he was rather famous. But that was Nancy. Every person was uniquely special – yet just a fellow human being.
Nancy was someone I looked up to and aspired to be like. She was a major influence both personally and professionally – I never stopped learning from her.
She will be missed by many, many people. And though her years were short, Nancy lived each one with great enthusiasm and the world is a better place because of the time she spent on it.
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Nancy’s life will be celebrated at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church, 5345 Virginia Beach Blvd., Virginia Beach, VA 23462-1889 on Wednesday, October 5, 2011. The memorial Mass will begin at 4:30 p.m. Flowers may be sent to St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her name to St. Michael Building Fund, P.O. Box 523, Biloxi, MS 39530.