On “Mr. Bainum”…

Good afternoon, ProviderNation.

Every hack lives in fear of burying the lede.

But, “transparency” is a big word in Washington (even if it’s one of those words that people mean it only to mean what they mean it to mean). So, in the interest of self-criticism, Your Humble Correspondent admits that he goofed. Big time.

Last week, we dipped the flag in salute to Mr. Stewart Bainum, the founder and longtime chief of Manor Care. We hit all the usual notes that you’d expect in an obit: hard-scabble youth, hard work, pioneering spirit, rise to the top, personal generosity, etc.

What we didn’t tell you is just how deep his generosity went. And we didn’t tell you that someone who knows his generosity best is AHCA/NCAL’s own Martece Yates.

She wants you to read her story, and I do, too.

In 1988, Martece was just wrapping up elementary school. She lived in Southeast D.C., which is the same as saying that she lived in a free-fire zone. (This was the nadir of the War on Crack, and Southeast D.C. was shameful host to most of the District’s homicides: 225 citywide in 1987, 369 in ’88, 434 in ’89, 479 in ’90 and—still a record—482 in ’91.)

In her own view, Martece wasn’t poor. Her parents worked hard and they had food on the table and clothes on their backs. (Martece, precocious and bright, with the grades to prove it, favored “Harvard” gear.) Middle school was coming and—like most of the “promising” kids in her neighborhood—Martece hadn’t give a thought to her local school, Kramer,  other than a shudder. (Kramer, then, was one of the worst in the city, which easily made it one of the worst in the country.) Like many such kids, Martece was prepared to schlep across the city to Ward 3’s Alice Deal.

And then a man in a tie knocked on her house. He was a recruiter for something called the “I Have a Dream” project and told Martece and her family that she would get help with college tuition if she agreed to attend Kramer.

“We didn’t believe the guy,” Martece recalls, laughing. “It was like Publishers’ Clearing House—someone just knocking on your door like that?”

It turned out that the project was bankrolled by Stewart Bainum, who had just retired from running his business empire. He and his wife, Jane, had started a foundation in the late 1960s, but it wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to put his mouth where his money was.

For Martece, it was the beginning of a lifelong relationship with a mentor whom she still refers to as “Mr. Bainum.”

“It was something,” she says. “What made this man want to do this?”

Martece, Jane Bainum and "Mr. Bainum": "He had this pure honesty."

Whatever it was, Martece decided early, it wasn’t ego.

“You never got the feeling that he thought it would move him up to some higher level if he helped all these little black kids from Southeast,” she says.

In fact, for a multi-millionaire, Bainum was self-effacing, even innocent.

“He had this pure honesty and candor,” Martece says. “He had no problem asking, ‘What kind of shoes are those?’”

At fourteen, Martece had her first job—working at Manor Care. Unlike a lot of kids’ jobs, though, Martece was put to work. She started in the employee relations department and was bounced to the legal department and back again, learning the business inside and out.

There, she met a woman called Phyllis Edmunds, the first African-American lawyer that Martece had seen outside of television. “It was really nice to see someone who was in charge of her own department that looked like me,” Martece says.

As ever, there was Bainum, who was full of questions for his young protégé.

“He would say, ‘How’s everything going?’” Martece recalls. “Is everybody treating you right?”

What mattered most was that Bainum took care without being condescending, Martece says.

Oh, and there was his estate out in Middleburgh, Va. Horses, swimming pools, tennis courts (she learned how to score the game there), the works. “You’ve only seen something like this on T.V.,” Martece says.

Each summer, Martece and the other “Dreamers” were invited down to the estate for a day. They had the run of the place and Martece remembers, especially, the long walks she took in the woods, enjoying the silence—the real, peaceful silence—of the countryside.

Like some of her classmates, Martece’s life took a detour. She started college in DC (paid for by Bainum), but after her son was born, she dedicated herself to her best job—being a mom. She hasn’t forgotten the promise she made to herself (and, indirectly, to “Mr. Bainum.”) In a scant few months, she’ll have wrapped up her bachelor’s in nursing.

In the meanwhile, Bainum’s foundation has produced a documentary about the Dreamers.

Anyway, Death be not proud. (Bill Myers, senior editor, Provider)


Filed under Long term care, Post-acute care

2 responses to “On “Mr. Bainum”…

  1. Clif

    A fantastic tribute to a real pioneer in our industry! Martece’s story shows how one man with a vision can impact every generation.

  2. John V

    What an awesome story on a man “Mr. Bainum” and a family that has positively impacted so many across our beautiful country!

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