Stevens Legacy Continued
The plaque on the captain's chair that honors Cornie Stevens' many years of incomparable service to the Ethics Center is dedicated to, "Our visionary and guiding light" - thus capturing in one eloquent phrase the enormity of the role she has played in helping to build the Center, as well as the great affection and esteem in which she is held.
The light she has shone so steadily on her work for the Center begins with the clear, penetrating gaze of her eyes. She sees deeply and broadly, and her vision of what is possible in the world of health care ethics has guided the Center almost from its inception. Her light burns bright with commitment and passion, fueled by a profound understanding of the impact of this work on the community she loves. And yet it also casts a gentle glow of grace and modesty that are the abiding hallmarks of her character. Always, for Cornie, the focus is the Center and its work - never the boundless energy and devotion she has brought to her multi-faceted roles as wise leader, tireless fund-raiser and generous contributor.
Now honored in perpetuity by the creation of the Cornelia Hayes Stevens Chair - a tribute that was a complete surprise to this humble champion of the Center's work - Cornie wears the mantle of her accomplishments with pride, but also a degree of discomfiture at the attention it draws to her own contributions. "I just think it's very important to support your community: it's a basic value," she says with a simplicity born of true sincerity, and then goes on quickly to extol the virtues of the people she has worked with and the importance of what they are doing, lest attention linger too long on the role she has played for so many years.
Such commitment to the community is a way of life for Cornie Stevens: she knows no other way. It is, as she puts it, "a reflection of the values that my parents gave me, and the church has given me, that you should care for your fellow humans. It's about treating people with respect."
And then, in 1991, when the Ethics Center was but a year old, it took just one meeting with Susan Tolle for Cornie to catch the vision of what the Center could accomplish.
Instantly, Cornie recognized that this "was an idea whose time had come." Having cared for both her in-laws and her parents at the end of their lives, she knew first hand that the medical system too often fell short in supporting patients and families during these difficult times. She realized "how exciting it would be to be in on the ground floor" of this new initiative. And she discerned immediately that she would be dealing with people of "the highest caliber - dedicated and efficient," qualities that she both admires and expects in organizations she supports.
If you talked with Cornie herself about her years of dedication to the Center, you might quite reasonably deduce that she arranged a few lunches and then wrote the occasional note of appreciation to those who supported the Center's work. It takes considerable probing to uncover the fact that for many years Cornie contributed the equivalent of a full-time job to the Center, carefully nurturing hundreds of relationships with donors, lending her formidable intellect to helping guide policy (it is she, for example, who has adamantly championed from the very beginning the Center's position of not accepting donations from the pharmaceutical industry), and quietly, without fanfare, offering whatever was needed to further the cause she espouses so passionately.
"Cornie has been a visionary guide, respected mentor, shining angel and cherished friend to the Ethics Center for almost all of its existence," says Susan Tolle. "She has set the highest of standards for the work we do and has always led by example. She is our inspiration in so many ways."
For Cornie, memories of the mountains of notes written, messages crafted and lunches attended, melt away into gratitude when she muses on the many gifts she has gathered from these labors. "It is quite easy to persuade people to hear the Ethics Center's story," she reflects with that familiar glint of animation in her eyes, "because it is always exciting and constantly changing and growing." Even after all these years, when the draw of her seven grandchildren diverts more of her time and attention, she is totally engaged when talking about the Center's work - her light still shining brightly, guiding the Center forward.