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In memoriam: Robert N. Mayer, healthcare visionary and philanthropist

December 7, 2015
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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Robert N. Mayer, PhD, who was the founder and president of the Hulda B. & Maurice L. Rothschild Foundation, has died, and the senior care community mourns the loss of one of its greatest advocates.

Mayer was best known as a philanthropist, thought leader and tireless advocate for eldercare reform and was a highly sought-after speaker on issues related to philanthropy, aging and healthcare design.

His work with the Rothschild Foundation included eight national regulatory task forces and a wide range of initiatives seeking to improve the quality of life and to enhance the experience of residents, patients and families in long-term care communities.

He served as a presenter, panelist and moderator for conferences sponsored by the Pioneer network, LeadingAge, Grantmakers in Health, Grantmakers in Aging and the American Society on Aging, among others.

"Rob knew how to get things done," says Margaret Calkins, PhD, Board Chair of the IDEAS Institute and a long-time colleague and friend. "He would routinely ask people, 'What are the barriers to making things better in nursing homes?' He funded demonstrations projects about changing the culture of long-term care, and when people said that regulations were the barriers, he started tackling the regulations.

"I was privileged to be working with Rob at the time of the Creating Home in the Nursing Home conference in 2008, when the first Rothschild Regulatory Task Force was conceived. We made changes to the Life Safety Code to allow kitchens that the residents could actually access and use, and seating in the corridors so people could walk from their rooms to the dining room. More personal decorations and fireplaces in the living rooms were allowed. We addressed lighting and acoustics, dining and accommodating residents preferences.  All these changes happened because Rob asked, 'How do we overcome these barriers?'"

Mayer spent 14 years in the private sector, where he directed the management resources function of a Fortune 100 multi-national corporation and later founded HomeCorps, a healthcare company to serve the elderly and handicapped. He was valued as a visionary in cutting-edge philanthropy, serving first as chair and then treasurer of The Nathan Cummings Foundation in its formative years. Mayer held positions from Chair of the Council on Foundations Family Foundations Conference to the organization’s Ethics & Practices Committee. He served as an Academic Director at the Center for Non-Profit Management of Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management in Chicago.

Mayer is survived by his wife of 40 years, Debra Weese-Mayer, MD, and three children. Private family services and Shiva are taking place this week. A memorial event celebrating Mayer’s life is being planned for a later date.

Read the obituary in the Chicago Tribune.