Retiring St. Mary’s president has ‘big heart’

Retiring St. Mary’s president has ‘big heart’

Dr. Frank Byrne says his weekend will go as it normally does.

He’ll have breakfast at Mickie’s Dairy Bar on Monroe Street with friends. He’ll take in the Badger basketball game on TV against Iowa. He’ll get out in the community later that evening and play music with his new band, the Grooving Needles, at Babe’s on Schroeder Road.

It’s when Monday hits that it will start to sink in.

“I was teasing some of my colleagues, “What are you going to do if I actually show up next Monday? Hopefully they won’t call security.”

Friday is Byrne’s final day as president after more than 10 years of service at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, capping a career of 40 years in healthcare. Byrne served as a critical care ICU physician prior to making the jump into hospital management in 1994, because healthcare was changing. “I felt someone who knew how to take care of a patient at 2 a.m. should be at the table where decisions were being made.,” Byrne said.

Since being hired in Madison, Byrne has overseen the massive facelift at St. Mary’s, navigated the venerable old Catholic hospital through the ever-changing course of the healthcare industry, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and through its recent high-profile merger with Dean Clinic.

The hospital, built in 1912, now stretches from South Mills Street all the way to Park Street, “a cornerstone,” Byrne said, of the “revitalization of the Park Street corridor.”

From the day he was hired as president at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, Byrne has made an impression not only on hospital grounds, but also in the community.

What sets Byrne’s tenure apart from all the other outstanding leaders in the Madison community is the way he blends with his co-workers. Every employee and every volunteer matters.

“An amazing, an amazing man, who we will miss sorely,” said Joanne Johnson, the hospital’s longtime director of Volunteer Services. “He knows every volunteer by name, so Frank will meet a volunteer and remember them by name, and remember something about that volunteer.”

It’s been a hallmark of his management style, said Byrne, “The best way I know to show respect to my colleagues is to know their names and know something about their story and the story that brought them here.”

Byrne’s story in Madison and at St. Mary’s isn’t over. He and his wife of more than 40 years, Cindy, will remain in Madison. Byrne, 62, will continue to serve on the St. Mary’s Hospital Foundation board. They will also remain extremely active in the Madison community. The Byrnes have been fixtures at Madison fundraising events for years.

“He is everywhere,” said St. Mary’s Foundation Executive Director Sandy Lampman, “One minute he’ll be playing the trumpet with the UW band, and the next he’ll be here at the hospital making sure a family is taken care of, and then he’ll be serving Thanksgiving dinner to employees who have to work on the holiday. He really does it all.”

“You have to be part of the community,” said Byrne, “And my wife Cindy has supported that. She’s had a number of people come up to her and say, you know your life is always going to be like this, as long as you’re married to him,” he said.

Byrne worked closely with Lampman on the development of the Ronald McDonald Family Room at St. Mary’s. It is the first of its kind in Wisconsin. It’s a place where families can stay close to pediatric patients, right on hospital grounds.

“As Frank would say, ‘That’s how we roll, we help families,” said Lampman. “He has an enormous brain and his heart is even bigger, and he believes in the people who work here at St. Mary’s and he loves the people who work here and we love him back.”

Once the retirement becomes official, a busy time awaits. The Byrnes immediate focus will turn to their daughter’s spring wedding, and their son’s upcoming graduation from Washington University in St. Louis.

Now, he says, is the right time for him to step aside because St. Mary’s and the Madison healthcare community are strong. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I think we’re well positioned — our system, this community, this state — to continue to be leaders in how to move healthcare forward in a way that makes sense for the people we serve.”

Down to his final couple days of work, Byrne is trying to tie up all the loose ends, “I’ve promised myself that I would sprint to the finish, but I know it’ll be an emotional week,” he said, “And I know I won’t get everything done that I want to.”

Someone better be prepared to call security on Monday.