Dr. Robert W. Jamplis
The simplest description of Dr. Robert Jamplis is perhaps best given by Gayle Movold, his executive assistant for 14 years: "He lived life to the fullest." Everything about "Jamp," from his personality to his long-term goals for the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, was expansive, energetic and enthusiastic.
Dr. Jamplis was in some ways the natural heir to Dr. Russel Lee, a visionary who constantly pushed the Palo Alto Medical Clinic to the forefront of medicine. But he operated differently. Where Dr. Lee was an outspoken maverick who often defied the conventional system, Dr. Jamplis was a politician who, through his optimism and dynamism, could talk anyone into anything. "It was unbelievable to see how he could convince people to do things even against their better judgment," said former Foundation President and CEO Dr. David Druker.
Dr. Jamplis grew up in Chicago. From kindergarten through medical school, he was educated at University of Chicago-affiliated schools, and his role as quarterback during college earned him the Sports Illustrated Silver Anniversary All-America Award in 1965. He originally planned to become a pediatrician like his father, but a stint as a Navy lieutenant – including two tours of duty in the Pacific in 1944-46 and 1952-54 – changed his plan. Stopping over in China, Dr. Jamplis visited a missionary hospital that desperately needed a surgeon. He stepped in, and after performing more than 70 procedures without losing a single patient, decided he had found his true calling. At the Mayo Clinic, he trained in general and thoracic surgery, and met his first wife, Roberta. He also earned a Master of Science degree in surgical pathology from the University of Minnesota.
Dr. Jamplis' friends included U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a childhood acquaintance who later became a patient. He reportedly dated Nancy Reagan when she was still Nancy Davis, daughter of a famous Chicago neurosurgeon. Perhaps it was through this connection that he subsequently became friends with then-Governor and later President Ronald Reagan. President Gerald Ford asked him to become U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, a request he turned down, saying he wanted to concentrate on his own medical practice.
But it wasn't just the rich and famous who counted for Jamp. "He knew everybody, and everybody knew him," said Dr. Druker. "He worked the room like nobody ever saw. Everybody was a pal." His affability helped win him numerous honors, including the presidencies of the American Group Practice Association, Western Thoracic Surgical Association and Society of Thoracic Surgeons; election to the prestigious Institute of Medicine; and achievement awards from the Mayo Foundation, University of Chicago, American College of Medical Group Administrators and Pathways Hospice Foundation. It also made him an extraordinarily successful fundraiser. During the 1990s capital campaign for the Foundation's new Palo Alto campus, "he asked about 600 people to contribute. Only three said no," recalled Vice President of Philanthropy Anne Jigger.
Those who knew him well adored him; without fail, they call him a "wonderful man" with a "heart of gold." Above all, many say, his passionate leadership of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation was inspirational. "I admire him most for his ability to hold on to a vision. He never saw barriers, only opportunities to achieve that vision. He loved the whole idea of the Palo Alto Medical Clinic, and I think he thought creating the Foundation was his greatest accomplishment. Like the founders, he saw it as our duty to put the organization before ourselves, and he had absolutely no regard for anyone who would not," said Dr. Francis A. Marzoni.
Dr. Jamplis passed away in February 2003 at the age of 82, leaving behind two children, three stepsons, five grandchildren and his second wife, Cynthia, whom he married after his first wife, Roberta, died in 1995. Many at PAMF still feel his absence acutely today. "Very few organizations, and certainly very few health care organizations, have ever had the good fortune to experience visionary leadership like that," said David Druker, M.D., Foundation president and CEO from 1999 to 2010. "He was truly a remarkable man."