Richard Stull's interest in healthcare began in 1940 when he was a football player who suffered a detached retina.
The injury occurred at Duke University, where Stull was a student. He had blocked a punt and received a blow to the eye.
While hospitalized, he met the top administrator. And that was all the career motivation he needed.
Over the next 40 years, the football player would play many positions in the healthcare field, including that of professor of health administration at Duke.
Stull, who died in 1982 at age 66, is most noted for his roles in expanding the educational program and design planning at the University of California and strengthening the American College of Healthcare Administrators (now the American College of Healthcare Executives).
He received a bachelor of arts degree from Duke in 1940 and a certificate of hospital administration in 1942.
After marrying Mary Elizabeth ("Molly") May in 1939, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy but received a waiver from World War II service because of his eyesight limitations.
Building healthy hospitals. Stull, who was born in 1916 in Washington, Pa., returned to the state in 1942 as hospital administrator at Phoenixville (Pa.) Hospital, a small facility that lacked accreditation from the predecessor of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and was in poor financial condition. Within two years, the hospital had completed a construction project, strengthened its financial position and attained accreditation.
By the end of the war, he was administrator at Norfolk (Va.) General Hospital, where he again instituted a building program and gave a failing facility a new future.
Stull's son, Richard Stull II, recalls some advice his father gave him on how to succeed in the healthcare industry: "Find a hospital in such disarray that no matter what you do, it will have to get better."
His son is currently chief operating officer at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Pediatrix Medical Group.
After a recommendation from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the elder Stull was called to California to survey the state's needs for construction in 1946, the same year the Hospital Survey and Construction (Hill-Burton) Act was passed.
He began as a consultant to the California State Department of Public Health and by 1955 had risen to the positions of vice president and professor for the University of California system.
In response to the state's huge population growth, he initiated the planning and construction of the UC medical schools in San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as all the state public clinics and other health services.
Emphasis on education. Stull initiated a graduate program in hospital administration at the University of California-Berkeley, the first program of its type west of the Mississippi River. The program involves residency and internship components.
"Much of the credit for the successful growth and development of health sciences at the University of California must go to the careful groundwork laid by Richard Stull," said James Carman, professor emeritus of business administration and public health at UC-Berkeley.
For more than a decade, Stull sat on many university committees and engaged in various facets of strategic planning and implementation. He was chairman of the long-range program committee for the Association of University Programs in Health Administration from 1949 to 1959.
While dealing with the restructuring of the UC healthcare system, Stull continued his efforts on other fronts.
He sat on the state's Department of Mental Health Board and the Senate Commission for Nursing Problems. In 1952, he helped conduct a study of teaching hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, for an integrated education program.
Outstanding students at Berkeley continue to be recognized by the Richard J. Stull Award for residency performance.
"Probably one of his most interesting activities was the opportunity to chair the President's Committee on Peacetime Use of Nuclear Energy in 1956," his son said. This was at the start of Eisenhower's second term in office and stood as a precursor to nuclear-age activity.
Stull served for a brief period in the early 1960s with Booz Allen & Hamilton as director of the health and medical administrative division, where he designed a 25-year master plan for Duke University.
He also was instrumental in helping a small medical supply company, the Aloe Medical Division of Brunswick Corp., grow from a $30 million operation to a company with more than $100 million in sales within four years.
During this time, he assisted the Health Industry Association (now the Health Industry Manufacturers Association) in developing the "caravan" method of transporting convention displays for multiple regional conferences.
Back to "college." In 1965, Stull was called upon to take up one of his greatest challenges. The ACHA was $103,000 in debt and at a crossroads. It needed new direction.
The financial logjam at the ACHA coupled with the fact that he would have to move from sunny California to windy Chicago made it a difficult decision, Stull's son said.
Stull chose to take on the challenge for an experimental three years, living on an adjusted income. He was determined to give the organization what it deserved.
His service lasted much longer than three years. During his tenure as leader of the ACHA from 1965 until 1978, the college expanded its educational programs and worked closely with the American Hospital Association to set standards for healthcare policies in hospital administration.
"The college grew into a true professional organization under Dick's leadership," said James Harvey, past chief executive officer of Hillcrest Medical Center in Tulsa, Okla.
"The seeds were planted for system accountability to the membership," he said. "He staffed good people in positions to help him with his endeavors."
Committees and task forces were created, new educational approaches were tried and finances were stabilized, said Stuart Wesbury, who was Stull's successor at the ACHA in 1979.
Under Stull's direction, the annual Congress on Administration, which is still held today, was formed to bring together all healthcare executives to inspire education and networking.
"He insisted on holding the annual meeting in Chicago in the winter because everyone would be forced to attend the meetings," Stull's son said.
From 1965 to 1969, Stull served the White House Conferences on Aging, Nutrition and Health. He also traveled to Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, England, Japan and Sweden to conduct seminars in healthcare policies and debate.
"His career took him to all parts of the world, where his efforts were directed toward helping improve healthcare delivery structures and services wherever he went," his son said.
After serving the ACHA for more than a decade, Stull was the recipient of its prestigious Silver Medal Award in 1977. Then in 1978, the AHA awarded him its Distinguished Service Award.
He acted as a mentor to many students and young administrators and enjoyed keeping up with their careers.
"For over 40 years he counseled, assisted and directed the careers of many healthcare professionals, never failing to say `yes' when called upon to assist his colleagues or their organizations," Stull's son said.
John Alexander McMahon, who led the AHA from 1972 until 1986, said he looked to Stull for advice in the beginning of his tenure because his experience in the healthcare industry was not as extensive as Stull's.
"I could not have had a better mentor," McMahon said.
Hard work was definitely one of Stull's ideals.
Richard Stull II remembers his father finding him at a baseball field after he had done a poor job mowing a neighbor's lawn. "He forced me to go back and get the job done right," the younger Stull said. "He was tough but fair."
At the end of his career, Stull taught at the Duke University Program in Hospital Administration, where he also served on the Board of Visitors for 12 years. He also was an annual Sloan lecturer at Cornell University.
Although various football injuries followed him throughout his life, Stull never seemed to slow down.
In fact, one of his two daughters was born the same day the University of California at San Francisco opened its new 16-story hospital in 1955, a project Stull helped coordinate.
"He always had 10 projects going on at the same time," his son said. "Ever since I left for college, I would call home and there would be another move or another job he had taken on."
After filling many roles in the industry, Stull started a small firm based in Whispering Pines, N.C., in the late 1970s that provided consulting services to hospitals.
"Until the time of his death, he was participating in educational programs to ensure that he was current with the dynamic changes in the industry," Stull's son said. "I guess that's what allowed him to travel into many arenas of healthcare. He understood the theories of healthcare and applied them to different needs in the industry."