Pat Neff Groner
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Pat Neff Groner, the original CEO of Baptist Hospital and a pioneer in the health care field, died in Pensacola, FL on December 14, 2012 at Azalea Trace, the continuing care retirement community opened in 1980 under his direction and vision. He was 91.
The youngest of five siblings, Pat grew up in Marshall, TX where his father, a Baptist minister and formerly a Waco, TX attorney and chairman of the Texas Baptist Convention, was President of the College of Marshall. Groner attended the College of Marshall and graduated from Baylor University. Upon graduation, Groner joined the Marine Corps. While going through Marine Corps pilot training in Vermont, Pat met Louise, his soon-to-be wife, who he would forever after proclaim as "the prettiest girl in Vermont". Pat and Louise were married in California in1944, after which Captain Groner was called to the South Pacific Theatre where he flew in World War II. After the war, Pat and Louise settled in her home state of Vermont where Groner interned at a Vermont hospital and joined the Vermont Air National Guard.
In 1950, at the request of the founding directors of Baptist Hospital, the 29-year old Groner flew an Air National Guard plane from Vermont to Pensacola to interview for the head job of the new hospital. Pat accepted the position, and months later, Pat and Louise moved to Pensacola with their young daughter, Jodee.
During his 33-year career as CEO of Baptist Healthcare, Groner's vision and energy led to innovations that are now standard in hospitals all over the United States. Baptist had the first post-operative recovery room in Florida and was one of the first hospitals in the nation to have an intensive coronary care unit, an outpatient surgical care unit, and hospital-based air ambulance known as Life Flight. Groner was restless about the status quo and always passionate about finding new and better ways of doing things. His leadership in organizations such as the American Hospital Association, the Southeastern Hospital Conference and the American College of Healthcare Executives took his ideas beyond Florida. A staunch proponent of not-for-profit hospitals, he formed relationships with healthcare leaders across the country with similar visions who together founded organizations which helped shape the industry. He was co-founder and president of the Hospital Research and Development Institute, co-founder of the Voluntary Hospitals of America, long-time board member for Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Florida, Inc., and Vice-President and Treasurer of Multi-Hospital Mutual Insurance Group.
Groner was influenced by his father, a Baptist-minister and first Chairman of the Southern Hospital Commission, and believed health care is a profession closely connected with faith. He often quoted Will Durant's statement that "Faith is a higher faculty than reason". Groner lived his faith through the interest he took in others. He is remembered by those he mentored in the profession as well as the countless associates whose lives he touched with his generosity and distinct sense of humor.
Pat believed in the community he loved serving in leadership positions with the March of Dimes, YMCA, Community Mental Health Center, Pensacola Rotary Club, Action 76 Taskforce on Higher Education, and various United Fund organizations. He was Don Tristan DeLuna XXXV in the Fiesta of Five Flags celebration.
Groner's interest in education and the State university system led to his service as a member of the Florida Board of Regents. Groner was also active in the banking field serving for years as a director of First Mutual, later AmSouth Bank.
Among his many honors Groner was awarded a Doctor of Laws by the University of West Florida and East Texas Baptist University; inducted in 2008 into the Health Care Hall of Fame by the American College of Health Care Executives; received the Kiwanis Man of the Year Award, Pensacola Junior Chamber of Commerce Good Government Award, Freedom Foundation George Washington Medal, Liberty Bell Award, and Pensacola Chamber of Commerce Pioneer Award. Groner was also a life long Rotarian and Paul Harris Fellow and was the recipient of numerous health care awards.
First cultivated during his service in World War II, Groner's love of aviation continued throughout his life. He piloted his famous Piper Twin Commanche, "Poppa Golf", all over the country. Pat passed along the plane, along with the flying bug, to his son and frequent co-pilot, Chip.
Groner is survived by his wife of 68 years, Louise; his two children, Jodee Hart (Chris) and Chip Groner (Pam); four grandchildren, Will Hart (Traci), Pat Hart (Betsy), Jenna Koebel (Chris) and Shelby Cotner (Joe) and seven great-grandchildren. A mentor to many in the hospital field, he continued that role with his grandchildren, two of whom went into the health care field, one into banking and one into aviation as a Navy pilot.
Pat loved his family, his work and his community. A man of faith, ideas and action, he led a life of service. Pat Groner's life is a model for the full life well lived.
A Memorial Service will be held at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church at 2:00pm, Thursday, December 20, 2012.
In lieu of flowers, contributions will be welcomed to the Baptist Healthcare Foundation, P.O.Box 17500, Pensacola, FL 32522-7500; UWF Foundation, Inc., Building 12, 11000 University Pkwy, Pensacola, Fl 32514 or Azalea Trace Heritage Fund, 10100 Hillview Drive, Pensacola, FL 32514.
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Published in Pensacola News Journal from Dec. 18 to Dec. 20, 2012